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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

U.S. debt relief for Egypt is mostly politics - News - Aswat Masriya - 1 views

  • President Mohamed Mursi faces many challenges to get Egypt's finances into shape, but high foreign debt isn't one of them. Interest payments eat up one quarter of public spending but the burden stems from high domestic debt. Egypt's total external borrowing was just $35 billion or less than 15 percent of GDP, as of June 2011.
  • Military aid has benefited U.S. strategic interests by buying priority access to the Suez Canal and to Egyptian air space, as well as support for Middle East peace. Egypt's military view the payments as "untouchable compensation" for making peace with Israel, according to documents published by Wikileaks. The aid also supports U.S. defence equipment manufacturers, as the funds must be spent on American hardware and services.
Ed Webb

Simon Jenkins: What on Earth Are America's Friends to Say? - 0 views

  • The brutality and apparent collapse of front-line discipline is charted in thousands of meticulously filed US government reports, proving only one thing, that any war "among the people" that goes on too long degrades its participants and degenerates into senseless cruelty. Our friends become our victims and our enemies triumphant.
  • The idea that the American invasion liberated Iraqis from kidnap, torture, rape and summary execution is shown to be a sick untruth. Indeed a shocking feature of the leaks is that few Iraqis appeared surprised.
  • An obsession with kill rates, inherited from Vietnam, recruits enemies at every turn and makes the prospect of stability and peace ever more distant.
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  • Many Pakistanis genuinely believe Washington is in the pay of Ahmadinejad of Iran, as his influence increases over regimes from Beirut and Damascus to Baghdad and Kabul.
Ed Webb

FAIR Blog » Blog Archive » World's Largest Arms Dealer Strains to Stop Arms Flow - 2 views

    Glad I wasn't the only one struck by the irony.
    the US hypocritical? never!
Ed Webb

Secret papers reveal slow death of Middle East peace process | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • The scale of confidential concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, including on the highly sensitive issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.• How Israeli leaders privately asked for some Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state.• The intimate level of covert co-operation between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority.• The central role of British intelligence in drawing up a secret plan to crush Hamas in the Palestinian territories.• How Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders were privately tipped off about Israel's 2008-9 war in Gaza.As well as the annexation of all East Jerusalem settlements except Har Homa, the Palestine papers show PLO leaders privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah for land elsewhere.
  • The offers were made in 2008-9, in the wake of President George Bush's Annapolis conference, and were privately hailed by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as giving Israel "the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history" in order to resolve the world's most intractable conflict. Israeli leaders, backed by the US government, said the offers were inadequate
    • Ed Webb
      Astonishing. If this is inadequate, what do they want?
  • the unyielding confidence of Israeli negotiators and the often dismissive attitude of US politicians towards Palestinian representatives
Ed Webb

How Two Persian Gulf Nations Turned The US Media Into Their Battleground - 0 views

  • Two rival Persian Gulf nations have for the past year been conducting a tit-for-tat battle of leaked emails in US news outlets that appears, at least in part, to have been an effort to influence Trump administration policy toward Iran.
  • On one side is the United Arab Emirates, a wealthy confederation of seven small states allied with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s bitter foe. On the other is Qatar, another oil-rich Arab monarchy, but one that maintains friendly relations with Iran, with which it shares a giant natural gas field.
  • unfolding battle alarms transparency advocates who fear it will usher in an era in which computer hacking and the dissemination of hacked emails will become the norm in international foreign policy disputes
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  • “You could spend years campaigning traditionally against someone or you could hack an email account and leak salacious details to the media. If you have no scruples, and access to hackers, the choice is obvious.”
  • This is the new warfare. This is something the governments use for commercial reasons, use for political reasons, and use to destroy their opponents
  • Tensions have been building for years between the UAE and Qatar. The two have feuded over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that many Persian Gulf monarchies see as a threat to their hereditary kingdoms. They’ve also been at odds over Qatar’s friendly relations with Iran and its backing of the Al Jazeera television channel, whose newscasts are often critical of Arab autocrats.The feud broke into the open on May 24 last year when someone hacked into the website and Twitter account of Qatar’s government news agency, QNA, and posted news stories and tweets that quoted the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, making bizarrely pro-Iran statements.Qatar disavowed the remarks within an hour, and its foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, quickly texted the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, that the statements weren’t true. Qatar took its official news website down, and still hasn’t brought it back online.But the damage had been done
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia, with the backing of the Trump administration, used the hacked news stories as a pretext for severing relations with Qatar, imposing a blockade, and making 13 demands, including that Qatar cut all ties with Iran and shut down Al Jazeera and all other state-funded news sites.
  • “They weaponized fake news to justify the illegal blockade of Qatar,” said Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Washington-based media attaché. “In the year since then, we have seen their repeated use of cyberespionage, fake news, and propaganda to justify unlawful actions and obfuscate underhanded dealings.”
  • he FBI concluded that freelance Russian hackers had carried out the operation on the UAE’s behalf
  • In June of last year, someone began leaking the contents of a Hotmail account belonging to Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s flashy ambassador to the United States. The leaks were distributed to a group of online news sites, including the Huffington Post, the Intercept, and the Daily Beast.“The leakers claimed the documents had been provided to them by a paid whistleblower embedded in a Washington, DC, lobbyist group, though it’s clear from even a cursory examination that they were printed out from Al Otaiba’s Hotmail account,”
  • “It’s not clear whether Otaiba’s inbox was hacked or passed along by someone with access to the account,”
  • The most damaging email leaks came in March when someone went after Elliott Broidy, a 60-year-old American hired to lobby for the UAE, and whose company, Circinus, has received more than $200 billion in defense contracts from the country. In recent years, he’s been one of the loudest American voices against Qatar, employing tactics ranging from anti-Qatar op-eds to personally lobbying Donald Trump to support the blockade against it.Broidy was in a prime position to lobby the president. He was the Republican Party’s vice chair of fundraising until April 13, when he resigned after the Wall Street Journal revealed that he’d used Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay a 34-year-old former Playboy model $1.6 million in hush money after he’d gotten her pregnant. The Journal said leaked emails played no role in that coverage.
  • “There was thought and calculation behind how this material was being distributed,” Wieder, who wrote about the emails in a follow-up story, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s not the old-school, WikiLeaks, ‘everything’s up on a site; make what you will of it.’”
Ed Webb

Israel seeking 'non-aggression' agreements with Gulf states | GCC News | Al Jazeera - 0 views

  • Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz has said he is seeking "non-aggression" agreements with Gulf states, as the two sides have warmed up to each other against common foe Iran.
  • All 22 Arab countries - except Egypt and Jordan - do not recognise Israel over the latter's occupation of Arab lands in Palestine and Syria.
  • the latest push by Israel to improve relations with Gulf states who do not formally recognise Israel and do not have formal diplomatic relations
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  • Iran's support for proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen have been worrying many including Israel and Saudi Arabia
  • Katz said he discussed the "non-aggression" plan with Arab foreign ministers and US President Donald Trump's outgoing envoy for the Middle East Jason Greenblatt
  • A Wikileaks cable from 2009 reported that Gulf Arabs believed "they can count on Israel against Iran".
  • In October 2018, Netanyahu met with Oman's Sultan Qaboos in Muscat in a surprise, unannounced trip
  • "This actually helps Iran because any regime in the region that associates itself with the Israeli regime, its image is hurt significantly. The more open this is, the better," he said alluding to widespread Arab resentment against Israel for its occupation of Palestine
  • Mohammad Marandi, a professor of American studies at the University of Tehran, told Al Jazeera that the latest news is "a very positive step for Iran" as it's been an open secret that Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE have been allies for years, "working together behind the scenes".
  • Earlier that year in March, Saudi Arabia allowed an Israel-bound passenger plane to cross through its airspace for the first time ever, breaking a 70-year ban
  • Ian Black, a visiting senior fellow at the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera that despite the warm relations and a shared common enemy, peace agreements are unlikely to happen "simply because of the emotive nature of the Palestinian issue across the Arab and Muslim world"
  • "[The Gulf states] simply don't want to go public with the sort of relationships we've seen increasingly visible but still limited in recent years."
Ed Webb

America's Dark History of Killing Its Own Troops With Cluster Munitions - The New York ... - 0 views

  • In December 2009, when President Barack Obama ordered attacks on two suspected terrorist camps in Yemen, at least one Tomahawk missile fired from a warship accompanying the U.S.S. Nimitz dumped BLU-97 bomblets onto the village of al-Ma’jalah. The Navy made an almost comical play for plausible deniability of America’s role. The ships steamed near shore so their cruise missiles would have sufficient fuel to fly beyond the target, turn back in the direction of the sea, release their payload onto al-Ma’jalah and then continue over the beach and fall into blue water, hiding evidence on the ocean floor.The attack reportedly killed 55 people, including 14 people suspected of being Qaeda members, 14 women and 21 children. The empty cruise missiles fell into the sea. But at least one dud was left behind at the strike scene. Before long, photos of Tomahawk missile parts appeared in news reports from Yemen, along with one clearly showing an unexploded BLU-97 — distinctive bright yellow and made in the United States. In keeping with United States policy of concealing American involvement in the Yemen conflict, the government of Yemen lied about the strike, claiming the village was attacked by Yemeni forces. Along with the accidental civilian casualties, the bungled attack had another unintended effect: Diplomatic cables exposed by WikiLeaks show that President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and Gen. David Petraeus decided to forgo future cruise missile attacks in favor of airstrikes — evidently a concession to BLU-97 unreliability and public mood.
  • Under the new policy, military commanders can now use existing cluster munitions until “sufficient quantities” of “enhanced and more reliable” replacements are developed and fielded. Though the Army has recently purchased cluster munitions that claim a dud rate of less than 1 percent, the service is buying them in such small quantities that they will come nowhere close to replacing existing stockpiles on a one-for-one basis.
  • The vast majority of cluster weapons the United States currently holds are the same as those that killed and injured dozens of troops in Desert Storm.
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  • Despite cluster munitions’ long history of fratricide, Pentagon leaders continue to assert that using these weapons can reduce casualties among Americans, partner nations and even civilians. When pressed repeatedly by The Times to explain such a scenario, and why other, newer, smaller and much more reliable munitions that have been added to its arsenal in recent years would be unable to carry out the same missions with less risk, Pentagon officials declined to elaborate.
  • A 2008 Defense Department memorandum showed that the Pentagon’s munitions stockpile in South Korea contained nearly 1.7 million cluster weapons, of which almost 1.2 million were Vietnam-era cluster artillery projectiles — the same weapons that killed many American service members in that war.
  • It’s possible that cluster weapons’ grim legacy, particularly that of the BLU-97, has been forgotten by the people now deciding how they will be deployed in the future. Those who remember are the explosive-ordnance disposal techs, who for more than 25 years have circulated Staff Sergeant Crick’s battlefield logbook as a testament of American military recklessness. It had almost no public exposure in all these years until a senior tech, who called the BLU-97 “the most dangerous weapon in our arsenal, and not just to the enemy,” shared a copy with The Times.
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