Category Archive 'Intelligence'
13 Jul 2010
George Friedman of the security consultancy Stratfor discusses the differences between the Russian approach of using very long-term, deep-cover recruitments and the US reliance on technical intelligence. It’s a lot easier to find Russians willing to acquire perfect English and reside for decades in the United States than to find Americans able to speak Russian like a native and willing to spend virtually their entire adult lives living as a Russian.
Interestingly, one of the recently exchanged Russian spies made a try to penetrate Stratfor. In that case, though, the Russians were apparently trying for technical surveillance.
One of the Russian operatives, Don Heathfield, once approached a STRATFOR employee in a series of five meetings. There appeared to be no goal of recruitment; rather, the Russian operative tried to get the STRATFOR employee to try out software he said his company had developed. We suspect that had this been done, our servers would be outputting to Moscow. We did not know at the time who he was. (We have since reported the incident to the FBI, but these folks were everywhere, and we were one among many.)
Thus, the group apparently included a man using software sales as cover – or as we suspect, as a way to intrude on computers. As discussed, the group also included talent scouts. We would guess that Anna Chapman was brought in as part of the recruitment phase of talent scouting. No one at STRATFOR ever had a chance to meet her, having apparently failed the first screening.
Read the whole thing.
29 Jun 2010
The New York Times has the initial report.
I did a quick pass through the best on-line sources on Intel issues, but no one at the moment has any more information.
They had lived for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New York, where they seemed to be ordinary couples working ordinary jobs, chatting to the neighbors about schools and apologizing for noisy teenagers.
But on Monday, federal prosecutors accused 11 people of being part of a Russian espionage ring, living under false names and deep cover in a patient scheme to penetrate what one coded message called American â€œpolicy making circles.â€
An F.B.I. investigation that began at least seven years ago culminated with the arrest on Sunday of 10 people in Yonkers, Boston and northern Virginia. The documents detailed what the authorities called the â€œIllegals Program,â€ an ambitious, long-term effort by the S.V.R., the successor to the Soviet K.G.B., to plant Russian spies in the United States to gather information and recruit more agents.
The alleged agents were directed to gather information on nuclear weapons, American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many other topics, prosecutors say. The Russian spies made contact with a former high-ranking American national security official and a nuclear weapons researcher, among others. But the charges did not include espionage, and it was unclear what secrets the suspected spy ring â€” which included five couples â€” actually managed to collect. …
The defendants were charged with conspiracy, not to commit espionage, but to fail to register as agents of a foreign government, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison; 9 were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. They are not accused of obtaining classified materials.
Read the whole thing.
06 Jun 2010
Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr. (ret.)
I’m inclined to think the Directorate of National Intelligence is a supernumerary and redundant level of authority, destined to divert massive amounts of energy to turf battles and struggles over authority. I think that, instead of adding another supervisory layer, we should have revolutionarily changed the CIA from an intensely Congressionally-regulated, rear-end-protecting bureaucracy with its own agenda into something a lot more like the original O.S.S.
If Barack Obama was going to appoint anyone to this dubious position, this time he seems to have made a well-qualified, professional choice. George Smiley is well up on General Clapper’s career and has positive things to say.
While Clapper is largely unknown to most Americans, he has served in the intelligence community for most of his adult life. As a young signals intelligence officer, Clapper flew collection missions over Southeast Asia on a modified EC-47 aircraft. He advanced steadily over the decades that followed, serving as a senior intelligence officer in Korea during the mid-80s, and as the Air Force’s Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence during the first Gulf War. At the time of his retirement from active duty in 1995, Clapper was Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
As a civilian, Clapper spent time at two defense contractors before returning to government service in 2001 as the first civilian director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), which processes and analyzes much of the data collected from spy satellites and other sensors. He spent five years at the agency before resigning in 2006, reportedly because of conflicts with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Clapper testified before Congress that DoD’s four major intelligence agencies should report to the DNI, a position that angered his boss.
After Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, Clapper was nominated to rejoin the Bush Administration, this time as Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. In that post, he served as chief advisor on intel matters to the new SecDef, Robert Gates, and his deputy, William Lynn. Clappper also functioned as DoD’s primary liason to the DNI, led by retired Navy Admiral Mike McConnell (under President Bush), and more recently, under another former Navy flag officer, Dennis Blair. …
In terms of background and experience, Jim Clapper is (arguably) the most-qualified man for the job. He’s one of the few spooks who has run two major intelligence agencies, and (more importantly), General Clapper knows the nuts-and-bolts of the business. He knows the star performers (and the weak sisters) in the intelligence community, and has definite ideas about making the DNI construct more efficient and effective. …
Managing an intelligence apparatus that consists of 16 different agencies (and thousands of employees) is a daunting (some would say impossible) task. General Clapper certainly understands the terrain–and he knows the key players–but there’s no guarantee he can meld them into a more effective team.
Indeed, Clapper will face many of the same challenges that bedeviled his predecessors. The DNI has limited budget authority, curtailing his ability to control agencies and their operations. Intel organizations have, in the past, found it convenient to slow-roll (or even ignore) DNI directives that aren’t to their liking.
Clapper may also have problems with his boss in the White House. During the Bush Administration, General Clapper was a strong supporter of enhanced interrogation techniques, though he also fought for more transparency and accountability in intelligence matters. Clapper may well find himself in a major battle the next time a terror suspect is detained at an airport (or in a foreign land) and other administration officials push to treat the individual as a criminal defendant, and not a hostile combatant.
General Clapper also faces opposition in Congress. Both the Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (California’s Diane Feinstein) and the ranking Republican (Kit Bond of Missouri) have expressed reservations, noting that Clapper was often reluctant to brief Congress on the Pentagon’s intelligence activities. After 45 years in the intel business, Clapper knows that Congress leaks like a seive, but stonewalling the SSCI doesn’t win you any favors from people that control your budget.
23 May 2010
Brook trout fishing, filmed by F.S. Armitage on June 6, 1900 somewhere along the Grand Trunk Railroad. 1:15 video.
Who should replace Dennis Blair as National Intelligence Director? No one, proposes John Noonan at the Weekly Standard:
Unnecessary bureaucracy has a venomous effect on the national security establishment, whether it’s infantry or intelligence. The director of national intelligence, which has ballooned to a 1500-man supporting office, was a top down solution to a bottom up problem.
Admiral Blair was a casualty of Intelligence Community turf wars. Closing the DNI office would reduce unnecessary conflicts and duplication of effort. It’s too logical a course of action to be given serious consideration most likely though.
Bruce Fleming says that standards at US service academies have been lowered for affirmative action and to allow academy teams to compete in the NCAA top divisions. He thinks standards should be restored or all the service academies closed down.
Robin Hanson observes a unidirectional dynamic at work in progressive statism.
[I]n any area where we let humans do things, every once in a while there will be a big screwup; that is the sort of creatures humans are. And if you wonâ€™t decrease regulation without a screwup but will increase it with a screwup, then you have a regulation ratchet: it only moves one way. So if you donâ€™t think a long period without a big disaster calls for weaker regulations, but you do think a particular big disaster calls for stronger regulation, well then you might as well just strengthen regulations lots more right now, even without a disaster. Because that is where your regulation ratchet is heading.
What if you canâ€™t imagine ever wanting to weaken a regulation, just because it was strong and youâ€™d gone a long time without a big disaster? Well then you apparently want the maximum possible regulation, which is probably to just basically outlaw that activity. And if that doesnâ€™t seem like the right level of regulation to you, well then maybe you should reconsider your ratchety regulation intuitions.
Hat tip to the News Junkie.
Ann Althouse chides the Washington Post: If you’re going to criticize the new social studies curriculum adopted by the Texas Board of Education, you’d better quote it or link it, not paraphrase it inaccurately.
21 May 2010
National Intelligence Director Dennis C. Blair
Admiral (ret.) Dennis Blair’s resignation as Director of National Intelligence is apparently the result of his personal defeat in a series of turf wars within the administration over Intelligence issues.
The New York Times describes some of the conflicts.
The departure of Mr. Blair, a retired admiral, had been rumored for months, but was made official when President Obama called him Thursday and asked him to step down.
Mr. Blairâ€™s relationship with the White House was rocky since the start of the Obama administration, and he fought a rear-guard action against efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency to cut down the size and power of the national intelligence directorâ€™s staff. He is the first high-ranking member of the Obama national security team to depart.
Mr. Blairâ€™s departure could strengthen the hand of the C.I.A operatives, who have bristled at directives from Mr. Blairâ€™s office. In recent months, Mr. Blair has been outspoken about reining in the C.I.A.â€™s covert activities, citing their propensity to backfire and tarnish Americaâ€™s image.
The administration has largely embraced the C.I.A. operations, especially the agencyâ€™s campaign to kill militants in Pakistanâ€™s tribal areas with drone aircraft. …
Officials said that Mr. Obama called Mr. Blair on Thursday to ask for his resignation, but that the two men had several discussions in person about the subject this week. Their relationship has been characterized as professional but not close, and some administration officials said Mr. Blair often felt cut out of discussions about important security matters.
Tensions among the White House, the intelligence director and Congressional oversight committees escalated after a young Nigerian man nearly detonated a bomb on a trans-Atlantic flight on Dec. 25. White House officials openly criticized Mr. Blair and his staff for a litany of missed signals that could have prevented the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, from boarding the plane.
They laid particular blame on the National Counterterrorism Center, one agency that Mr. Blair supervises. A report released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee was particularly critical of the NCTCâ€™s failures to piece together the information that could have put Mr. Abdulmutallab on a â€œno-flyâ€ list.
American officials said that Mr. Blair had also angered the White House in recent months by pushing for closer intelligence ties to France, an arrangement opposed by Mr. Obama.
Some intelligence experts and Republican lawmakers say they believe that the White House has tried to micromanage Americaâ€™s spy agencies, and there was a particularly tense relationship between Mr. Blair and John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism director.
Mark Hosenball, at Newsweek’s Intel blog, refers to “missteps” by Admiral Blair in the behind-the-scenes struggles over authority over US Intelligence.
While the timing of Blair’s departure seemed a bit abrupt, the notion that his position inside the administration was shaky has been common gossip in Washington intelligence and political circles for weeks if not months. Blair, who had a glittering career as a military leader, rising to become commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, gained a reputation as a not particularly adroit operator in the Machiavellian world of D.C. espionage politics. One of Blair’s earliest missteps was his attempt to appoint former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council, effectively the chief analyst of the entire U.S. intelligence community. The nomination was canceled after pro-Israel organizations questioned some of Freeman’s public statements.
Blair also lost battles, originally begun by his predecessors as intelligence czar, to win White House approval for the intelligence czar’s office to have the power to name its own supreme U.S. intelligence representative in countries abroad, and to give the intelligence czar’s office a place in the chain of command for “covert operations” proposed and carried out by the CIA. CIA chief Leon Panetta fought hard and successfully to preserve the CIA’s historical and exclusive prerogative to name U.S. intelligence station chiefs overseas. Panetta also succeeded in limiting the intelligence czar’s role in covert operations to an advisory one.
During the aftermath of the Christmas Day attempted underpants airplane bombing, Blair irritated White House officials with undoubtedly truthful, but politically awkward, statements to Congress about how U.S. agencies handled suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab after his arrest. Perhaps as a consequence, Blair’s public role in handling the aftermath of the more recent attempted car bombing of Times Square was reduced to the point of near invisibility.
There are a lot of insiders talking about this one. ABC has even more details.
One official tells ABC News that President Obama sought Blairâ€™s resignation earlier this week, but Blair pushed back, hoping to convince the president to change his mind.
That did not happen.
The official says that there were high-profile problems on Blairâ€™s watch and those certainly didnâ€™t help him, but the ultimate reason Blair is gone is because of the dissatisfaction President Obama and the National Security Staff had with Blairâ€™s ability to share intelligence in a tight, coherent and timely way.
This was, the official said, the result of long pent-up dissatisfaction with Blair as the principal intelligence adviser to the president, responsible for briefing the president every day and briefing the National Security Staff. In short, officials didnâ€™t think the briefings were relevant to what the president was focused on that day or time period. They werenâ€™t crisp or well-presented.
At other times, Blair didnâ€™t seem to take â€œnoâ€ for an answer, the official said. He was pushing an initiative dealing with intelligence and other countries, and he kept pushing it even after President Obama turned it down.
The news will not come as a surprise to those in the intelligence community. For months, Blair has turf battles while the White House made it clear that it had more confidence in others, such as counterterrorism and homeland security adviser John Brennan, taking the lead both publicly and privately.
Last November, the White House sided with CIA director Leon Panetta when Blair attempted, against Panettaâ€™s wishes, to pick the chief U.S. intelligence officer in each country, a job that traditionally has gone to the CIA station chief.
At other points, Blair seemed simply out of the loop. In hearings looking into failed Christmas Day bomber Abdulmuttalab, Blair seemed unaware that the High-Value interrogation Group was not yet operational. He later walked back his statement.
Judith Miller describes Blair’s problems as being related to his bring an outsider in the Obama Administration.
Congress loved him. A Rhodes Scholar brain with military bearing. A fitness fanatic, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair presented well on Capitol Hill. Peter King, the New York Republican who has fought so hard to toughen homeland defenses, praised Blair’s dedication to the job. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence committee, called him a “consumate public servant.”
But he was, as Peter King observed, the “odd man out,” or as another colleague called him, a good man in the wrong job. There were one too many turf fights. One too many bureaucratic battles lost for lack of White House support or just picked badly and lost.
John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, increasingly made intelligence policy from the White House. CIA Director Leon Panetta sliced him up again and again. Attorney General Eric Holder, close to Obama, muzzled him, too. Even DHS chief Janet Napolitano testified on issues that Blair would normally have weighed in on. He was, as King called him, “not an insider. Not one of them.
Daniel Foster quotes ranking Republican member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Pete Hoekstra (R- 2 MI) making the very same point Judith Miller did, with greater indignation.
Blairâ€™s resignation is the result of the Obama administrationâ€™s rampant politicization of national security and outright disregard for congressional intelligence oversight. Blairâ€™s resignation is disturbing and unfortunate. The concerns I have come from how the Obama administration conducts national security, not over the director of national intelligence, who they never allowed to do it.
“Congressional Republicans we will be watching closely who the president plans to name as a successor. Right now, the Obama administrationâ€™s national security apparatus is broken, dysfunctional and in disarray. Dennis Blair was the one person you could count on for rationality among Holder, Napolitano and Brennanâ€”and heâ€™s the one the president let go.”
19 Apr 2010
We don’t know exactly what information the National Security Agency has ceased collecting , and we don’t know what legal issue persuaded which judge that collecting it was a problem. But the Washington Post tells us that there will be a hiatus for some time in the surveillance of terrorist communications. If it should happen that they are able to exploit this particular security gap, we will probably one day learn just who was responsible.
A special federal court that oversees domestic surveillance has raised concerns about the National Security Agency’s collection of certain types of electronic data, prompting the agency to suspend collecting it, U.S. officials said.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which grants orders to U.S. spy agencies to monitor U.S. citizens and residents in terrorism and espionage cases, recently “got a little bit more of an understanding” about the NSA’s collection of the data, said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because such matters are classified.
The data under discussion are records associated with various kinds of communication, but not their content. Examples of this “metadata” include the origin, destination and path of an e-mail; the phone numbers called from a particular telephone; and the Internet address of someone making an Internet phone call. It was not clear what kind of data had provoked the court’s concern.
Some House Republicans have argued that the suspension of collection creates an intelligence gap that undermines the government’s ability to track and identify terrorist networks, according to officials familiar with the matter. Frustrated about waiting for a remedy, these Republicans say the gap can be closed with a technical fix to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the officials said.
“This is a basic tool we used to have, and it’s now gone,” said one intelligence official familiar with the impasse. “Every day, every week that goes by, there’s just one more week of information that we’re not collecting. You sit there and say, ‘This is unbelievable that we have this gap.’ ”
The data could be used to help analysts learn whom a suspect was working and communicating with, and to “detect and anticipate” a plot, the official said. “It’s not a concern over what was being collected,” he said. “It’s just a question about whether the law was written in a way that allowed the information to be collected in a way that they were collecting it.” …
The NSA voluntarily stopped gathering the data in December or January rather than wait to be told to do so, the officials said. The agency had been collecting it with court permission for several years, officials said.
26 Feb 2010
With the media and the country distracted yesterday by President Obama’s health care summit, House democrats tried to slip provisions into the intelligence authorization bill that would not only have criminalized a number of controversial interrogation tactics, an “includes but is not limited to” provision would have made anything done by a US interrogator allegedly “degrading” to a prisoner potentially punishable by imprisonment.
Faced with strong Republican opposition and fearing the reaction of the public, the House leadership backed off and removed the entire bill from consideration.
[Intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) added language, originally offered by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.)] into the intelligence authorization bill that would establish criminal punishment for CIA agents and other intelligence officials who engage in â€œcruel, inhuman and degrading treatmentâ€ during interrogations.
Democrats inserted an 11-page addition into the bill late Wednesday night as the House Rules Committee considered the legislation.
The provision, previously not vetted in committee, applied to â€œany officer or employee of the intelligence communityâ€ who during interrogations engages in beatings, infliction of pain or forced sexual acts. The bill said the acts covered by the provision would include inducing hypothermia, conducting mock executions or â€œdepriving the [detainee] of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care.â€
The language gave Congress the discretion to determine what the terms mean, and it would have imposed punishments of up to 15 years in prison, and in some cases, life sentences if a detainee died as a result of the interrogation.
Andrew McCarthy explains just how far the language went:
The provision is impossibly vague â€” who knows what â€œdegradingâ€ means? Proponents will say that they have itemized conduct that would trigger the statute (Iâ€™ll get to that in a second), but it is not true. The proposal says the conduct reached by the statute â€œincludes but is not limited toâ€ the itemized conduct. (My italics.) That means any interrogation tactic that a prosecutor subjectively believes is â€œdegradingâ€ (e.g., subjecting a Muslim detainee to interrogation by a female CIA officer) could be the basis for indicting a CIA interrogator. …
Waterboarding is not all. The Democratsâ€™ bill would prohibit â€” with a penalty of 15 yearsâ€™ imprisonment â€” the following tactics, among others:
– â€œExploiting the phobias of the individualâ€
– Stress positions and the threatened use of force to maintain stress positions
– â€œDepriving the individual of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical careâ€
– Forced nudity
– Using military working dogs (i.e., any use of them â€” not having them attack or menace the individual; just the mere presence of the dog if it might unnerve the detainee and, of course, â€œexploit his phobiasâ€)
– Coercing the individual to blaspheme or violate his religious beliefs (I wonder if Democrats understand the breadth of seemingly innocuous matters that jihadists take to be violations of their religious beliefs)
– Exposure to â€œexcessiveâ€ cold, heat or â€œcramped confinementâ€ (excessive and cramped are not defined)
– â€œProlonged isolationâ€
– â€œPlacing hoods or sacks over the head of the individualâ€
Naturally, all of these tactics are interspersed with such acts as forcing the performance of sexual acts, beatings, electric shock, burns, inducing hypothermia or heat injury â€” as if all these acts were functionally equivalent. …
Democrats are saying they would prefer to see tens of thousands of Americans die than to see a KSM subjected to sleep-deprivation or to have his â€œphobias exploited.”
17 Feb 2010
Some recent non-Irish visitors to Dubai
The New York Times admired the romantic plot line.
The murder was straight out of a cheap spy thriller. At least 11 professional assassins, some wearing wigs and fake beards, tracked a senior Hamas official to his Dubai hotel in January and killed him with cold precision, fleeing the country afterward on European passports, the Dubai police say.
The Telegraph quoted the Irish government denying the legitimacy of several supposedly Irish passports, and provided details of the assassination.
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior figure in the military wing of Hamas, was found dead in a hotel room on Jan 20. According to one report he was killed by a female assassin who entered his room by posing as a member of hotel staff, injected him with a drug that induced a heart attack and hung a â€œDo Not Disturbâ€ sign on the door.
But other officers said he was strangled, probably after receiving an electric shock.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, blamed Israelâ€™s Mossad intelligence service for the killing.
It seems that the late al-Mabhouh played a key role in the smuggling of Iranian rockets to Gaza.
27:27 Security camera footage of suspected assassins
Two figures in the assembled video have their faces digitized out, why?
DEBKAfile is taking a vacation!
the late Mahmoud-al-Mabhouh
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
20 Aug 2009
Russian freighter Arctic Sea
The world recently witnessed a real life Hunt for the Red October as Russia scrambled air and naval forces, and even deployed satellites, in a intensive search for the Arctic Sea, a perfectly ordinary freighter which had departed Kaliningrad carrying a cargo of timber destined for Algeria, and was hijacked in the Baltic by an unknown group of armed men.
The hijackers of a cargo ship that disappeared off the coast of France threatened to blow it up if their ransom demands were not met, Russian news agencies said.
Russia has arrested eight people on suspicion of hijacking the Arctic Sea off the Swedish coast and sailing it to the Atlantic Ocean, ending weeks of silence about the fate of a ship which has intrigued European maritime authorities.
Limited information from Russian officials has failed to satisfy sceptics (sic) who voiced doubts about whether the piracy actually took place or was a convenient cover story to conceal a possible secret cargo of arms or nuclear material. …
The Maltese-registered, Russian-crewed vessel and its $1.3 million cargo of timber disappeared from radar screens three weeks ago, prompting speculation ranging from an attack by an organised crime gang to a top-secret spy mission.
The Malta Maritime Authority said on Tuesday, without elaborating, that the Arctic Sea had “never really disappeared”, a comment which increased speculation that security services might have been involved in the affair.
Russia has said the eight detainees were citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Russia who on July 24 boarded the ship, forced the crew to change route and turned off its navigation equipment.
After heading through the English Channel in late July, radio contact was lost and the 4,000-tonne ship did not deliver its cargo to the Algerian port of Bejaia on August 4.
The Russian navy found the missing ship on Monday in the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Verde.
The official version of events was questioned by Yulia Latynina, a leading Russian opposition journalist and commentator.
“The Arctic Sea was carrying something, not timber and not from Finland, that necessitated some major work on the ship,” she wrote in the Moscow Times newspaper on Wednesday.
During two weeks of repair works in the Russian port of Kaliningrad just before the voyage, the ship’s bulkhead was dismantled so something very large could be loaded, she wrote.
“To put it plainly: The Arctic Sea was carrying some sort of anti-aircraft or nuclear contraption intended for a nice, peaceful country like Syria, and they were caught with it,” she said.
Political analysts and maritime security experts remain skeptical that the hijackers were merely interested in the crew or the ship’s cargo â€“ a load of lumber bound for Algeria.
That bulky, low-value cargo was worth about $1.8 million, which makes the danger and expense of a takeover hardly seem worth it. “Hijacking lumber … it’s sort of like counterfeiting one dollar bills,” says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a provider of defense and intelligence information. Mr. Pike calls the Arctic Sea incident an “out-of-pattern hijacking.”
19 Jul 2009
Richard A. Clarke, in the Wall Street Journal, discusses, from a professional’s perspective, the political wars over US Intelligence Operations, describing recent events as “part of a 60-year historical pattern of manic swings of opinion in Washington about the efficacy of covert action.”
Most Americans might not think it was a big secret that CIA agents were trying to kill al Qaeda members, but in the weird world of Washington intelligence, it was.
For over a decade, in three different presidencies, there has been an ongoing debate about whether and how to kill al Qaeda terrorists and what part of the U.S. government should have the mission. The 9-11 Commission report details how President Clinton decided that killing Osama bin Laden and his supporters was not a violation of the ban on assassinations, how he authorized attacks, and how the CIA failed successfully to use that authority. Several media accounts this week indicate that after 9-11, the CIA put together a more serious effort to take out terrorists, but that the program was variously activated, deactivated, and put on hold by the four directors the CIA has had since 9-11. Senior CIA officers have been reluctant for years to create hit squads, fearing that a wave of CIA assassinations of terrorists would provoke a major al Qaeda retaliation against U.S. intelligence officers worldwide. They have also, with good reason, doubted the ability of their own agency to successfully kill the right people and then escape. Some have pointed to the Israeli terrorist targeting effort as evidence that such killings can be counter-productive, providing the terrorist groups with propaganda victories. Israeli experts are themselves split on the effectiveness of their killings, but it does seem likely that it has made it harder for terrorist leaders to operate.
It is puzzling that some people object to U.S. personnel killing terrorists with sniper rifles or car bombs, but have little apparent problem with CIA and Department of Defense personnel tracking down specific terrorist leaders with Predator drones and then killing those leaders with the unmanned aircraftâ€™s Hellfire missiles. The terrorist groups probably see little difference in how we choose to kill their leaders.
Clarke is perfectly right. Outside the nation’s capital and beyond the circles of the chattering class elite, no one in America would ever understand why there is (supposedly) some kind of a legal and moral problem with US covert intelligence killing al Qaeda terrorists. You need elite education, real sophistication, and a habit of reading important publications to understand these things.
13 Jul 2009
Now we know, at least vaguely, what was behind the accusations against the CIA made in that June 26th letter from seven democrat House members.
After some months on the job, Leon Panetta learned of an inactive, never really implemented but potentially controversial, CIA program, initiated in the direct aftermath of 9/11, which proposed assassinating some important al Qaeda leaders. It would appear that such shenanigans were too Jack Bauer for the Bush Administration, so despite ink being spilled, findings being drafted, and probably warrior spooks training with silenced pistols off somewhere in the Virginia woods, nothing real ever came of any of this.
But good little Leon felt obliged to tattle anyway, and seven democrats thought the opportunity to play Gotcha! with the Agency was too good to miss. Ergo, the famous letter of June 26th. The Sunday Times dutifully clocked in yesterday with a deeply-troubled, chin-stroking article about the perfidy of Dick Cheney in concealing such dastardly doings.
The Wall Street Journal today actually supplies a lot more of the substance.
A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.
The precise nature of the highly classified effort isn’t clear, and the CIA won’t comment on its substance.
According to current and former government officials, the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training. It was acting on a 2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. The initiative hadn’t become fully operational at the time Mr. Panetta ended it.
In 2001, the CIA also examined the subject of targeted assassinations of al Qaeda leaders, according to three former intelligence officials. It appears that those discussions tapered off within six months. …
One former senior intelligence official said the program was an attempt “to achieve a capacity to carry out something that was directed in the finding,” meaning it was looking for ways to capture or kill al Qaeda chieftains.
The official noted that Congress had long been briefed on the finding, and that the CIA effort wasn’t so much a program as “many ideas suggested over the course of years.” It hadn’t come close to fruition, he added. …
(A) small CIA unit examined the potential for targeted assassinations of al Qaeda operatives, according to the three former officials. The Ford administration had banned assassinations in the response to investigations into intelligence abuses in the 1970s. Some officials who advocated the approach were seeking to build teams of CIA and military Special Forces commandos to emulate what the Israelis did after the Munich Olympics terrorist attacks, said another former intelligence official.
“It was straight out of the movies,” one of the former intelligence officials said. “It was like: Let’s kill them all.”
The former official said he had been told that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn’t support such an operation. The effort appeared to die out after about six months, he said. …
(I)n September 2001, as CIA operatives were preparing for an offensive in Afghanistan, officials drafted cables that would have authorized assassinations of specified targets on the spot.
One draft cable, later scrapped, authorized officers on the ground to “kill on sight” certain al Qaeda targets, according to one person who saw it. The context of the memo suggested it was designed for the most senior leaders in al Qaeda, this person said.
Eventually Mr. Bush issued the finding that authorized the capturing of several top al Qaeda leaders, and allowed officers to kill the targets if capturing proved too dangerous or risky.
Lawmakers first learned specifics of the CIA initiative the day after Mr. Panetta did, when he briefed them on it for 45 minutes.
What is really going on here is an attempt to gratify the democrat party’s bolshevik base with a little more witch hunting for Bush-Cheney war crimes, combined with the same party’s Congressional efforts to grab micromanagement control of US Intelligence operations.
Sensible people, and even Christopher Hitchens, have argued for some time that the battle with Congress over the CIA was lost long ago. It is past time to abolish the current agency, sell that campus at Langley for a football stadium, and establish a brand new unfettered agency operating covertly and free of Congressional oversight out of anonymous offices.
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