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Ed Webb

Exclusive: Secret Trump order gives CIA more powers to launch cyberattacks - 0 views

  • The Central Intelligence Agency has conducted a series of covert cyber operations against Iran and other targets since winning a secret victory in 2018 when President Trump signed what amounts to a sweeping authorization for such activities
  • The secret authorization, known as a presidential finding, gives the spy agency more freedom in both the kinds of operations it conducts and who it targets, undoing many restrictions that had been in place under prior administrations
  • Unlike previous presidential findings that have focused on a specific foreign policy objective or outcome — such as preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power — this directive, driven by the National Security Council and crafted by the CIA, focuses more broadly on a capability: covert action in cyberspace.  
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  • countries include Russia, China, Iran and North Korea — which are mentioned directly in the document — but the finding potentially applies to others as well
  • offensive cyber operations with the aim of producing disruption — like cutting off electricity or compromising an intelligence operation by dumping documents online — as well as destruction, similar to the U.S.-Israeli 2009 Stuxnet attack, which destroyed centrifuges that Iran used to enrich uranium gas for its nuclear program
  • freed the agency to conduct disruptive operations against organizations that were largely off limits previously, such as banks and other financial institutions
  • it lessened the evidentiary requirements that limited the CIA’s ability to conduct covert cyber operations against entities like media organizations, charities, religious institutions or businesses believed to be working on behalf of adversaries’ foreign intelligence services, as well as individuals affiliated with these organizations
  • “as long as you can show that it vaguely looks like the charity is working on behalf of that government, then you’re good.”
  • Since the finding was signed two years ago, the agency has carried out at least a dozen operations that were on its wish list, according to this former official. “This has been a combination of destructive things — stuff is on fire and exploding — and also public dissemination of data: leaking or things that look like leaking.” 
  • “We’re playing semantics — destabilization is functionally the same thing as regime change. It’s a deniability issue,”
  • “Our government is basically turning into f****ing WikiLeaks, [using] secure communications on the dark web with dissidents, hacking and dumping,”
  • critics, including some former U.S. officials, see a potentially dangerous attenuation of intelligence oversight, which could have unintended consequences and even put people’s lives at risk
  • “Trump came in and way overcorrected,” said a former official. Covert cyber operations that in the past would have been rigorously vetted through the NSC, with sometimes years-long gaps between formulation and execution, now go “from idea to approval in weeks,” said the former official. 
  • an unknown group in March 2019 posted on the internet chat platform Telegram the names, addresses, phone numbers and photos of Iranian intelligence officers allegedly involved in hacking operations, as well as hacking tools used by Iranian intelligence operatives. That November, the details of 15 million debit cards for customers of three Iranian banks linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were also dumped on Telegram.Although sources wouldn’t say if the CIA was behind those Iran breaches, the finding’s expansion of CIA authorities to target financial institutions, such as an operation to leak bank card data, represents a significant escalation in U.S. cyber operations
  • These were operations the “CIA always knew were an option, but were always a bridge too far," said a former official. “They had been bandied about at senior levels for a long time, but cooler heads had always prevailed." 
  • “It was obvious that destabilization was the plan on Iran,”
  • Neither these two Iran-related findings, nor the new cyber finding, mention regime change as a stated goal, according to former officials. Over time, however, the CIA and other national security officials have interpreted the first two Iran findings increasingly broadly, with covert activities evolving from their narrow focus on stopping Tehran’s nuclear program, they said. The Iran findings have been subject to “classic mission creep,” said one former official.
  • senior Trump officials weren’t interested in retaliating against Russia for the election interference
  • The CIA’s “deconfliction is poor, they’re not keeping people in the loop on what their cyber operations are,”
  • This more permissive environment may also intensify concerns about the CIA’s ability to secure its hacking arsenal. In 2017, WikiLeaks published a large cache of CIA hacking tools known as “Vault 7.” The leak, which a partially declassified CIA assessment called “the largest data loss in CIA history,” was made possible by “woefully lax” security practices at the CIA’s top hacker unit, the assessment said.
  • Removing NSC oversight of covert operations is a significant departure from recent history, according to Eatinger. “I would look at the intel community as the same as the military in that there should be civilian control of big decisions — who to go to war against, who to launch an attack against, who to fight a particular battle,” he said. “It makes sense that you would have that kind of civilian or non-intelligence civilian leadership for activities as sensitive as covert action.”
  • “People thought, ‘Hey, George W. Bush will sign this,’ but he didn’t,” said a former official. CIA officials then believed, “‘Obama will sign it.’ Then he didn’t.”“Then Trump came in, and CIA thought he wouldn’t sign,” recalled this official. “But he did.”
Ed Webb

CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup - 0 views

  • Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States' role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq's ouster has long been public knowledge, but today's posting includes what is believed to be the CIA's first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup.
  • CIA materials posted today include working files from Kermit Roosevelt, the senior CIA officer on the ground in Iran during the coup. They provide new specifics as well as insights into the intelligence agency's actions before and after the operation
  • The issue is more than academic. Political partisans on all sides, including the Iranian government, regularly invoke the coup to argue whether Iran or foreign powers are primarily responsible for the country's historical trajectory, whether the United States can be trusted to respect Iran's sovereignty, or whether Washington needs to apologize for its prior interference before better relations can occur
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  • Despite the appearance of countless published accounts about the operation over the years - including Kermit Roosevelt's own detailed memoir, and the subsequent leak to The New York Times of the 200-page CIA narrative history[4] — intelligence agencies typically refused to budge. They have insisted on making a distinction between publicly available information on U.S. activities from non-government sources and official acknowledgement of those activities, even several decades after the fact
  • "There is no longer good reason to keep secrets about such a critical episode in our recent past. The basic facts are widely known to every school child in Iran. Suppressing the details only distorts the history, and feeds into myth-making on all sides."
  • they still leave wide gaps in the history, including on some fundamental questions which may never be satisfactorily answered — such as how to apportion responsibility for planning and carrying out the coup among all the Iranian and outside actors involved
  • all 21 of the CIA items posted today (in addition to 14 previously unpublished British documents — see Sidebar), reinforce the conclusion that the United States, and the CIA in particular, devoted extensive resources and high-level policy attention toward bringing about Mosaddeq's overthrow, and smoothing over the aftermath
Erin Gold

Al Jazeera English - Europe - Italy convicts CIA rendition agents - 0 views

  • An Italian judge has convicted 23 US secret agents over the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian imam from a Milan street in an extraordinary rendition by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
  • trial was the first in the world to centre on the agency's controversial programme, in which "terror" suspects are thought to have been transferred to countries known to practise torture.
  • case concerned the seizure of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, and his transfer to Egypt, where he claims he was tortured.
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  • All of the Americans were tried in absentia, with 22 sentenced to five years in jail and Robert Seldon Lady, the Milan CIA station chief, handed eight years in prison.
  • Citing diplomatic immunity, Judge Oscar Magi told the Milan courtroom on Wednesday that he was acquitting three other Americans.
  • Magi said the men were protected by by state secrecy rules
  • CIA has not commented on any of the allegations surrounding Abu Omar".
  • Some of them [those convicted], including Seldon Lady and Jeff Castelli, the CIA chief of station in Rome, left the country when they were found to be part of the operation and they never came back to Italy. "It is very unlikely they will come now that they have been convicted
  • even if the verdict is upheld, it seems unlikely they will be extradited."
  • Abu Omar, an imam granted political asylum in Italy, was taken from a Milan street on February 17, 2003, in an operation allegedly co-ordinated by the CIA and  SISMI.
  • He was released after four years in prison without being charged
  • Abu Omar told Human Rights Watch in 2007 that he was "hung up like a slaughtered sheep and given electrical shocks" during his time in Egypt. "I was brutally tortured and I could hear the screams of others who were tortured too," he told the organisation.
Ed Webb

A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This C... - 0 views

  • “There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”
  • The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE
  • The UAE, with vast wealth but only about 1 million citizens, relies on migrant workers from all over the world to do everything from cleaning its toilets to teaching its university students. Its military is no different, paying lavish sums to eager US defense companies and former generals. The US Department of Defense has approved at least $27 billion in arms sales and defense services to the UAE since 2009.
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  • Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work.
  • militarized contract killing, carried out by skilled American fighters
  • “There were guys that were basically doing what you said.” He was astonished, he said, by what he learned: “What vetting procedures are there to make sure the guy you just smoked is really a bad guy?” The mercenaries, he said, were “almost like a murder squad.”
  • US law makes it illegal to “conspire to kill, kidnap, maim” someone in another country. Companies that provide military services to foreign nations are supposed to be regulated by the State Department, which says it has never granted any company the authority to supply combat troops or mercenaries to another country
  • with some exceptions, it is perfectly legal to serve in foreign militaries, whether one is motivated by idealism or money. With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria. Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover.
  • The commandos’ plans went awry, and the intelligence proved flawed. And their strike was far from surgical: The explosive they attached to the door was designed to kill not one person but everyone in the office
  • Private mercenaries operate outside the US military’s chain of command, so if they make mistakes or commit war crimes, there is no clear system for holding them accountable
  • Golan insists that he killed only terrorists identified by the government of the UAE, an ally of the US. But who is a terrorist and who is a politician? What is a new form of warfare and what is just old-fashioned murder for hire? Who has the right to choose who lives and who dies — not only in the wars of a secretive monarchy like the UAE, but also those of a democracy such as the US?
  • Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”
  • the country embeds foreigners in its military and gave the rank of major general to an American lieutenant colonel, Stephen Toumajan, placing him in command of a branch of its armed forces.
  • The US draws the line at combat; it does not hire mercenaries to carry out attacks or engage directly in warfare. But that line can get blurry. Private firms provide heavily armed security details to protect diplomats in war zones or intelligence officers in the field. Such contractors can engage in firefights, as they did in Benghazi, Libya, when two contractors died in 2012 defending a CIA post. But, officially, the mission was protection, not warfare
  • The people Spear did target, he and Gilmore said, were legitimate because they were selected by the government of the UAE, an ally of the United States that was engaged in a military action supported by the US. Gilmore said that he and Golan told the UAE they would never act against US interests. And Golan claimed that, based on his military experience, he could tell if a target was a terrorist after just a week or two of surveillance.
  • A little-known consequence of the war on terror, and in particular the 17 combined years of US warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the number of special operations forces has more than doubled since 9/11, from 33,000 to 70,000. That’s a vast pool of crack soldiers selected, trained, and combat-tested by the most elite units of the US military, such as the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. Some special operations reservists are known to engage in for-profit soldiering, said a high-level SEAL officer who asked not to be named. “I know a number of them who do this sort of thing,” he said. If the soldiers are not on active duty, he added, they are not obligated to report what they’re doing.
  • Gilmore said some were members of Al-Islah, some were clerics, and some were out-and-out terrorists — but he conceded he couldn’t be sure.BuzzFeed News has obtained one of the target cards. On it is a man’s name, photograph, telephone number, and other information. At the top right is the insignia of the UAE Presidential Guard.
  • During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, such as Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Later in the Vietnam War, the US launched the Phoenix program, in which the CIA often teamed up with US military units to “neutralize” — or, critics say, assassinate — Viet Cong leaders. Even so, targeted killings were not a central pillar of US military strategy in Vietnam. And after Congress exposed CIA activities in the 1970s, the US banned assassinations of foreign leaders.
  • Under President George W. Bush, the CIA and the military used drones to kill terrorists, and the CIA developed covert assassination capabilities. President Barack Obama halted the agency’s secret assassination program but drastically ramped up the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Soon the CIA and the military were using the aircraft — piloted remotely using video monitors — to kill people whose names the US didn’t even know, through “signature strikes” based solely on a target’s associations and activities. President Donald Trump has further loosened the rules for drone strikes.
  • Only a uniformed officer can push the button that fires the drone’s missile and kills the target
  • Elisabeth Kendall, an expert on Yemen at the University of Oxford, points out that unlike al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups, which try to seize power through violence, Al-Islah participates in the political process. But, she said, the US rationale for drone strikes has legitimized other countries’ pursuit of their own assassinations: “The whole very watery, vague notion of a war on terror has left the door wide open to any regime saying, ‘This is all a war on terror.’ ”
  • Golan said he models his assassination business on Israel’s targeted killing program, which has been underway since the country was founded, and which, despite some high-profile errors and embarrassments, he claims is done properly. He argues there are some terrorist enemies so dangerous and implacable — and so difficult to arrest — that assassination is the best solution.
  • Golan and Gilmore had another condition: They wanted to be incorporated into the UAE Armed Forces. And they wanted their weapons — and their target list — to come from uniformed military officers. That was “for juridical reasons,” Golan said. “Because if the shit hits the fan,” he explained, the UAE uniform and dog tags would mark “the difference between a mercenary and a military man.”
  • Gilmore acknowledged that some of the targets may have been people who merely fell out of favor with the ruling family. Referring to the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Gilmore said, “There is the possibility that the target would be someone who MBZ doesn’t like. We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
  • Even though it failed to kill Mayo, the mercenaries’ bomb attack seems to have ushered in a new phase in the UAE’s war against Al-Islah. “It was the exclamation point that set the tone that Al-Islah was now going to be targeted,”
  • As 2016 progressed, those watching the deteriorating situation in Yemen began to notice that members of Al-Islah, and other clerics in Aden, were dropping dead at an alarming pace. “It does appear to be a targeted campaign,” said Gregory Johnsen of the Arabia Foundation, who in 2016 served on a UN panel investigating the Yemen war. “There have been 25 to 30 assassinations,” he said, though a few appear to be the work of ISIS.
  • One new member of the team, hired in early 2016, was the veteran of SEAL Team 6, Daniel Corbett, according to three sources and confirmed by photos. Corbett was a superb soldier, say those who know him, and had served multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was still in the reserves, so the US military could deploy him at any moment; he collected a government salary; and he was supposed to report for monthly drills. And yet he was in Yemen on a private contract to work for a foreign military. It is unclear if he himself was involved in missions to assassinate anyone.
  • In a mysterious development, Corbett is currently in jail in Serbia, where he is being investigated for illegal handgun possession. The American veteran has been held there since February 2018.
  • “some variety of the future of warfare.”
Ed Webb

Beirut 1958: America's origin story in the Middle East - 0 views

  • No one in Beirut — or Washington — thought that this mission would mark the beginning of decades of seemingly endless American combat missions in the Middle East. In retrospect, Beirut in 1958 was a decisive turning point.
  • Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war pitting the Christian and Muslim communities against each other. The Muslims saw the Marines as enemies intent on keeping a hated President Camille Nemr Chamoun in office against the law. The Lebanese army, a fragile coalition of Christians and Muslims, saw the Marines as uninvited aggressors who were violating Lebanese sovereignty. The American command was prepared for the worst and was ready to deploy nuclear weapons to the battlefield from its base in Germany.
  • A year before, Eisenhower had enunciated what became known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, the first statement by a president stating that America has vital interests in the Middle East and would defend them by force if necessary.
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  • the immediate cause for the dispatch of the Marines: a coup d’etat in Baghdad on July 14. The pro-American King Faisal II had been brutally murdered in the coup, and his government was swept away. In Jordan, then federated with Iraq, Eisenhower said a “highly organized plot to overthrow the lawful government” of King Hussein had been discovered. Actually, the Central Intelligence Agency had foiled the plot several weeks before.
  • said President Chamoun had requested American military intervention to stop “civil strife actively fomented by Soviet and Cairo broadcasts.” It was the only time in the speech that Eisenhower even alluded to what had him really worried that day: the rising political power in the Arab world of Egypt’s charismatic young President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Arab nationalist movement.
  • It was a less than candid explanation for sending in the Marines. Eisenhower made no mention of the fact that Chamoun was illegally seeking a second term and even claimed Chamoun did not seek reelection. The focus was entirely on Russia and the Cold War, an issue far more Americans understood than the intricate politics of Lebanon or the Arab world.
  • Nasser, meanwhile, was in Yugoslavia visiting the communist government there. Within hours of Eisenhower’s speech, he flew to Moscow. Both Nasser and his host Nikita Khrushchev agreed that they had no warning of the coup in Baghdad or knew anything about the coup plotters, according to recently declassified Soviet documents. Both agreed that the Iraqi coup was the most important development in the Middle East and the American intervention in Lebanon was a sideshow.
  • Nasser was, in the summer of 1958, at the pinnacle of his political career and power. Ironically, he had started his political rise very much as a protégé of the Americans.
  • The British had been completely surprised by the coup in Egypt, but the CIA was not — it had detected the signs of change coming. The agency moved quickly after to coup to establish contact with Nasser.  The point man for the CIA was the legendary Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt, a scion of the Roosevelt family born in Argentina. Kim had visited Cairo before the coup and set up contact with the Free Officers who would carry it out. In October 1952, he returned to Cairo as chief of the CIA’s Near East Division and met with Nasser at the famous Mena House Hotel near the pyramids. Each was impressed by the other and they agreed to a clandestine relationship.
  • Roosevelt led the CIA operation that overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran and restored the Shah to his throne in 1953, immediately making him the darling of both Dulles and Eisenhower.
  • Washington agreed to encourage the British to give up their Suez Canal base. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was initially reluctant, but the U.K.’s huge debts from the world wars compelled him to make a deal and the British army agreed to leave Egypt in 1954. Roosevelt had been active behind the scenes in facilitating the deal.
  • The CIA gave Nasser a few million dollars, far short of what he wanted, to buy arms. Instead, he used it to build a large transmitter for the Egyptian radio program the “Voice of the Arabs” and broadcast his Arabist and anti-colonialist message to the region. Word spread about the source of the money for the tower, and it was nicknamed “Roosevelt’s Erection.”
  • Nasser took a decisive step when he arranged a large arms purchase from the Soviet Union’s client state Czechoslovakia in 1955. This alarmed the Cold Warriors in the West, especially John Foster Dulles, who saw the arms deal as the first significant penetration of the Middle East by Russia. It also alarmed the British and French, who saw Nasser’s growing stature as a threat to their remaining colonies and protectorates in the region such as Aden (part of modern-day Yemen), Algeria, Jordan, and Iraq.
  • Eisenhower opposed the 1956 tripartite invasion of Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel, seeing it as a throwback to imperialism, but the crisis did not improve the American relationship with Nasser.
  • Nasser’s intelligence agents unveiled a Saudi-funded plot to assassinate him, severely embarrassing King Saud, the man Eisenhower hoped would be a pro-American alternative to Egypt for the Arab public
  • The July 14 coup in Baghdad was a complete shock. A brigade of troops was scheduled to pass through the capital en route to Jordan to help back King Hussein against the threat posed by Nasser. Instead, as it entered the capital, it turned on the monarchy. The rebels surrounded the royal palace, and when it surrendered, the king and regent were shot to death. It was a bloody affair. The tanks of the coup-makers were covered with pictures of Nasser, and the crowds that cheered the Iraqi monarchy’s demise also screamed for Gamal Abdel Nasser. The military leaders of the coup said very little.
  • Lebanon’s Chamoun was already asking for American troops, and Jordan was acutely vulnerable. “If the Iraq coup succeeds it seems almost inevitable that it will set up a chain reaction that will doom the pro-West governments of Lebanon and Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and raise grave problems for Turkey and Iran.” Israel, Dulles predicted, would take over the West Bank and East Jerusalem “if Jordan falls to Nasser.” The entire Middle East — or at least its Arab components — might fall to Nasser, in his view. Russia would be the beneficiary.
  • At risk was a devastating defeat in the Cold War
  • the British government decided to send paratroopers to Amman to help steady the remnant of the Hashemite monarchy still in power there.
  • Ike was lucky in the end. His diplomats and generals on the scene in Beirut found a diplomatic way to avoid conflict and prevent the worst. The nuclear weapons were never shipped from Germany to the Mediterranean. After a period of political negotiations, Chamoun was pressured to stand down as president, and the civil war ended.
  • The return of the Marines to Beirut in 1982, for example, ended in a catastrophic truck bombing of their barracks that killed 241 soldiers. The wars in Iraq have now seemingly become endless. The region itself is constantly in turmoil, with terrorist attacks in many of its capital cities an all too routine atrocity.
Ed Webb

A Funeral of 2 Friends: C.I.A. Deaths Rise in Secret Afghan War - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • there are at least 18 stars on that wall representing the number of C.I.A. personnel killed in Afghanistan — a tally that has not been previously reported, and one that rivals the number of C.I.A. operatives killed in the wars in Vietnam and Laos nearly a half century ago
  • Since 2001, as thousands of C.I.A. officers and contractors have cycled in and out of Afghanistan targeting terrorists and running sources, operatives from the Special Activities Division have been part of some of the most dangerous missions. Overall, the division numbers in the low hundreds and also operates in Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines and other areas of conflict.C.I.A. paramilitary officers from the division were the first Americans in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, and they later spirited Hamid Karzai, the future president, into the country. Greg Vogle, an agency operative who took Mr. Karzai into Afghanistan, went on to run the paramilitary division and became the top spy at the C.I.A.The first American killed in the country, Johnny Micheal Spann, was a C.I.A. officer assigned to the Special Activities Division. He died in November 2001 during a prison uprising.
  • the C.I.A. helped build the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, which has long faced accusations of torturing suspected militants.
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  • paramilitary officers from the Special Activities Division have trained and advised a small army of Afghan militias known as counterterrorism pursuit teams. The militias took on greater importance under President Barack Obama, who embraced covert operations because of their small footprint and deniability.
  • The C.I.A. also spent more than a decade financing a slush fund for Mr. Karzai. Every month, agency officers would drop off cash in suitcases, backpacks and even plastic shopping bags. Mr. Karzai’s aides would use the cash to run a vast patronage network, paying off warlords, lawmakers and others they wanted to keep on their side.The slush fund, which was exposed in 2013, was seen by many American diplomats and other officials and experts as fueling the rampant corruption that has undermined the American effort to build a functioning democracy in Afghanistan.
  • The ranks of C.I.A. operatives aren’t easily replaced, said Mr. Stiles, the former counterterrorism analyst.“That’s going to be one of the challenges for the government,’’ he said. “How do we maintain the level of experience and expertise in a war that is going to last for another 20 or 30 years or longer?”
Ed Webb

Tough Guy Leaking - Salon.com - 0 views

  • The primary fear-mongering agenda item for the National Security and Surveillance State industry is now cyberwarfare
  • as is usually true when it comes to Washington warnings about the evils of Others — this is pure projection
  • Administration defenders will undoubtedly insist that unleashing cyber warfare was all necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and impeding an Israeli attack — even though the U.S. Government acknowledges there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons; Iran has the absolute right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, and it is far from clear that this virus meaningfully impeded Iran’s nuclear program. But no matter: once a Manichean storyline is implanted (Evil Iran v. Virtuous America), all acts of aggression by the super-hero against the villain are inherently justified.
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  • This morning’s story by Sanger is but the latest in a long line of leaks about classified programs that have two attributes in common: (1) they come from senior Obama administration officials; and (2) they are designed to depict President Obama, in an Election Year, as a super-tough, hands-on, no-nonsense Warrior. Put another way, the administration that is pathologically fixated on secrecy and harshly punishing whistleblowers routinely leaks national security secrets when doing so can politically benefit the President.
  •  Dear Vital Jewish Voters in Crucial Swing States: behold what this great leader did in secret to pummel Iran.
  • consider the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to prosecute former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling under espionage statutes for allegedly telling The New York Times‘ James Risen — almost ten years ago — about dangerous mistakes the CIA made in trying to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program (mistakes which actually resulted in helping the Iranian program)
  • aside from the tried-and-true strategy of Democratic politicians benefiting politically from provoking criticism from the “Left,” Obama officials (and their apparatchiks) are eager to depict him as a violence-wielding aggressor. As Digby put it this week, “the [Obama] campaign is happy about all this condemnation” aimed at the drone program as it “proves [his] macho bona fides.” Obama officials will undoubtedly be just as pleased with any objections to waging undeclared, unauthorized cyber-warfare on Iran’s perfectly legal nuclear program, thus bringing the world yet another new means of destructive warfare
Ed Webb

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama, by Tom Junod - Esquire - 0 views

  • "President Bush would never have been able to scale this up the way President Obama has because he wouldn't have had the trust of the public and the Congress and the international community," says the former administration official familiar with the targeting process. "That trust has been enabling."
  • It is only human to have faith in the "human intelligence" generated by the agents, operatives, and assets of the CIA. But that's the point: What's human is always only human, and often wrong. America invaded Iraq on the pretext of intelligence that was fallacious if not dishonest. It confidently asserted that the detainees in Guantánamo were the "worst of the worst" and left them to the devices of CIA interrogators before admitting that hundreds were hapless victims of circumstance and letting them go. You, Mr. President, do not have a Guantánamo. But you are making the same characterization of those you target that the Bush administration made of those it detained, based on the same sources. The difference is that all your sentences are final, and you will never let anybody go. To put it as simply as possible: Six hundred men have been released uncharged from Guantánamo since its inception, which amounts to an admission of a terrible mistake. What if they had never even been detained? What if, under the precepts of the Lethal Presidency, they had simply been killed?
  • Collateral damage used to be anyone killed who was not targeted. Now the term "collateral damage" applies only to women and children. "My understanding is that able-bodied males of military age are considered fair game," says the former administration official, "if they're in the proximity of a known militant."
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  • This is what Senator Carl Levin, who receives regular briefings on "clandestine activities" as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says about the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: "My understanding is that there was adequate justification." How? "It was justified by the presence of a high-value target."This is what his aunt says about his death in an e-mail: "We were all afraid that Abdulrahman would get caught up in the turmoil in Yemen. However, none of us thought that Abdulrahman will face a danger from the sky. We thought that the American administration, the world leader and superpower will be far and wide from such cruelty. Some may say Abdulrahman was collateral damage; some said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We say that Abdulrahman was in his father's land and was dining under the moon light, it looked to him, us and the rest of the world to be the right time and place. He was not in a cave in Waziristan or Tora Bora, he was simply a kid enjoying his time in the country side. The ones that were in the wrong place and time were the American drones, nothing else."
  • You have been free to keep the American people safe by expanding the Lethal Presidency — by approving the expanded use of signature strikes in Yemen and by defying an edict of the Pakistani parliament and continuing drone strikes in Pakistan. You have even begun thinking of using the Lethal Presidency as an example for other countries that want Lethal Presidencies of their own.
  • the danger of the Lethal Presidency is that the precedent you establish is hardly ever the precedent you think you are establishing, and whenever you seem to be describing a program that is limited and temporary, you are really describing a program that is expansive and permanent. You are a very controlled man, and as Lethal President, it's natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidency. It's even natural for you to think that you can control the Lethal Presidencies of other countries, simply by the power of your example. But the Lethal Presidency incorporates not just drone technology but a way of thinking about drone technology, and this way of thinking will be your ultimate export. You have anticipated the problem of proliferation. But an arms race involving drones would be very different from an arms race involving nuclear arms, because the message that spread with nuclear arms was that these weapons must never be used. The message that you are spreading with drones is that they must be — that using them amounts to nothing less than our moral duty.
Ed Webb

bellingcat - Lord Of The Flies: An Open-Source Investigation Into Saud Al-Qahtani - bel... - 0 views

  • Before tuning in via Skype to oversee the murder and dismemberment of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saud al-Qahtani, a high-level adviser to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was best known for running social media operations for the royal court and serving as MBS’s chief propagandist and enforcer. His portfolio also included hacking and monitoring critics of the Kingdom and MBS.
  • Al-Qahtani registered at least 22 domains since 2009, some of which have been used as command and control servers for malware
  • al-Qahtani’s posts on Hack Forums detail the hacking tools and services he purchased and used and the social media platforms and mobile apps he targeted. By June 2011, less than two years after joining the forum, he estimated that he had 90% of paid and free RATs on the market. Al-Qahtani also paid Hack Forum members to have social media accounts deleted and sought to manufacture engagement activity on major social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook.
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  • He also posted at least three times while drunk, by his own admission, and opined on topics unrelated to hacking such as the role of religion in politics and policy toward Iran.
  • MBS’s repression machine is alive and well thanks in no small part to the Trump administration’s refusal to hold the Saudi strongman and his regime to account. 
  • Since Khashoggi was murdered last October, the CIA has observed its “duty to warn” on three separate occasions, sharing intelligence to alert dissidents based in the U.S., Canada and Norway to threats originating from Saudi Arabia. 
  • multiple media outlets have cited sources saying that he is still in MBS’s good graces and continuing to work in a similar capacity as before he was officially ousted from the royal court.
  • The best open-source indication to date that al-Qahtani is continuing his hacking work comes from the Guardian, which reported in June 2019, that it was targeted by a Saudi hacking team at the order of al-Qahtani. The newspaper was initially warned of the order by a source in Riyadh earlier this year, and the threat was subsequently corroborated by a confidential internal order signed by al-Qahtani, which the Guardian reviewed. The document, dated March 7, 2019, was written in Arabic and instructed “heads of technological and technical departments” run from the cybersecurity directorate within the private office of the MBS to “carry out the penetration of the servers of the Guardian newspaper and those who worked on the report that was published, and deal with the issue with complete secrecy, then send us all the data as soon as possible.”
  • On June 19, 2019, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, published a report on Khashoggi’s death, calling it a “premeditated extrajudicial execution” at the hands of the Saudi state. “His killing was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials. It was premeditated.”
  • The report specifically names al-Qahtani and MBS as two high-level officials who have not been criminally charged but for whom there is “credible evidence meriting further investigation.” 
  • In addition to the 22 domains analyzed above, this investigation identified several other domains that are likely linked to al-Qahtani but require further research and analysis
Ed Webb

Making a Killing - OCCRP - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of war in Syria, weapons from Central and Eastern Europe have flooded the conflict zone through two distinct pipelines – one sponsored by Saudi Arabia and coordinated by the CIA, and the other funded and directed by the Pentagon. A series of investigations by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have brought to light these multi-billion-dollar weapons deliveries -- exposing the misleading and potentially illegal documents on which they rely, the shady dealers at its heart of the trade, and the governments that have profited from the war.
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    Detailed reports on arms pipelines into Syria
Ed Webb

World Cup host Qatar used ex-CIA officer to spy on FIFA | AP News - 0 views

  • a trend of former U.S. intelligence officers going to work for foreign governments with questionable human rights records
  • “Pickaxe,” which promised to capture “personal information and biometrics” of migrants working in Qatar. A project called “Falconeye” was described as a plan to use drones to provide surveillance of ports and borders operations, as well as “controlling migrant worker populations centers.”“By implementing background investigations and vetting program, Qatar will maintain dominance of migrant workers,” one GRA document said.
  • The private surveillance business has flourished in the last decade in the Persian Gulf as the region saw the rise of an information war using state-sponsored hacking operations that have coincided with the run-up to the World Cup.
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  • Chalker declined requests for an interview or to answer detailed questions about his work for the Qatari government. Chalker also claimed that some of the documents reviewed by the AP were forgeries.
  • The AP took several steps to verify the documents’ authenticity. That includes confirming details of various documents with different sources, including former Chalker associates and soccer officials; cross-checking contents of documents with contemporaneous news accounts and publicly available business records; and examining electronic documents’ metadata, or digital history, where available, to confirm who made the documents and when. Chalker did not provide to the AP any evidence to support his position that some of the documents in question had been forged.
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