Archive for November, 2011

Analysis: Cloud computing causes ‘cosmic shift’ in US spy community

November 28, 2011
Cloud computingCloud computing

While many are focusing on recent reports of arrests of CIA operatives in Lebanon and Iran, American intelligence planners have other things on their minds: the latest buzzword is ‘cloud’; specifically, ‘cloud computing’. The term means storing information and software on a network, which can then be shared on demand by users of interconnected electronic devices. The US intelligence community’s interest in this form of data organizing has been known for quite some time. But according to specialist publication Federal Computer Week, cloud computing is rapidly becoming a reality, as one after the other, US intelligence agencies are “moving their classified, sensitive information off their own servers and into the cloud”. Such a change “might have sounded crazy five years ago”, says FCW, and the fact that it is happening marks nothing less than a “cosmic shift” for American intelligence. The migration unto the cloud was spearheaded two years ago by the National Security Agency; the NSA was later joined by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the super-secretive National Reconnaissance Office. Soon the CIA wanted in: in 2009, Jill Tummler Singer, the CIA’s deputy Chief Intelligence Officer, told ComputerWorld that the CIA was becoming one of the US government’s strongest advocates for cloud computing, even though “the term really didn’t hit our vocabulary until a year ago”. Not everyone is super-excited about the cloud. Last year, Brian Snow, the NSA’s former Technical Director, said at a conference that he didn’t trust cloud services, mostly because of the existence of countless unpatched software vulnerabilities. But the move is heavily supported by two of America’s most senior intelligence officials: Keith Alexander, commander of US Cyber Command and director of NSA —America’s largest intelligence agency— and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Alexander recently told a conference that the NSA and the Department of Defense intend to amalgamate their “seven million pieces of IT infrastructure and systems and 15,000 different enclaves […] into a [unified] cloud-like structure […] by the end of the year”. Advocates of the cloud argue that the massive data migration will bridge communication gaps between intelligence agencies and satisfy the needs of an increasingly hi-tech and mobile workforce. But some observers —including this writer— suspect that the financial austerity, which is expected to hit the US intelligence budget next year, is at least partly responsible for this data consolidation, represented by cloud computing. And what about information assurance, you ask?  Good question. Earlier this month, Robert Bigman, chief of the CIA’s Information Assurance Group, lambasted information systems contractors for not providing the US government with the basic tools it needs to build a secure information infrastructure. “What we need”, said Bigman, “is a secure operating system […]. We gave up some time ago on the battle to build a secure operating system, and we don’t have one”. Could the US intelligence community be running ahead of itself on this one?

The Fortifications of Paris: An Illustrated History (BOOK REVIEW)

November 27, 2011

The Fortifications of Paris: An Illustrated History, by Jean-Denis G. G. Lepage

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. Pp. viii, 264. Illus, plans, append., biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0786461004.


Arguably, Paris would not have become the capitol of France were it not for its defenses, which this very well-illustrated work examines, from Gallic times through the twentieth century.

LePage, author of such works as French Fortifications, 1715-1815andMedieval Armies and Weapons in Western Europe, not only gives the reader a large number of detailed plans and maps of the city’s defenses over the ages, but also provides a useful, and very often overlooked, explanation of the strategic and technological developments that led to the successive revisions of the city’s defenses.  He covers all the principal sieges of the city well, and most notably the Viking investment of 885-886, the Prussian-German siege of 1870-1871, and preparations for siege in the weeks before the Battle of the Marne in 1914.  The result is more than a look at the defenses of Paris, but is a handbook of western fortification strategy and technology.

An important book for anyone interested in French history or in fortifications.


Buy It At


Intelligence News YOU may have missed

November 27, 2011

►►Careless codeword may have cost CIA its Lebanon network. Hezbollah have reportedly just rolled up the CIA’s network of spies in Lebanon. If so, it’s because of one of the stupidest, least secure code words in history. According to ABC News, Hezbollah operatives figured out that CIA informants, who had infiltrated the Iranian proxy group, were meeting with their agency handlers at a Beirut Pizza Hut. How could Hezbollah deduce that location? “The CIA used the codeword ‘PIZZA’ when discussing where to meet with the agents,” ABC reports.

►►UK spy chiefs to be publicly questioned for first time. The heads of British intelligence agencies are set to be questioned for the first time in public, under plans to make spies more accountable. The directors of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will face Parliamentarians on the Intelligence and Security Committee. Although, they have recently begun to make rare public appearances, and deliver speeches, it will be the first time the intelligence agency heads will face public cross-examination over their activities.
►►Documents reveal largest domestic spy operation in Canadian history. Police organizations across Canada co-operated to spy on community organizations and activists in what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called one of the largest domestic intelligence operations in Canadian history, documents reveal. Information about the extensive police surveillance in advance of last year’s G8 and G20 meetings in southern Ontario comes from evidence presented in the case of 17 people accused of orchestrating street turmoil during the summits.

Intelligence News YOU may have missed

November 25, 2011
Vitaly ShlykovVitaly Shlykov

►►UK to support Colombia’s new intelligence agency. The UK has announced that it will provide help and advice on the implementation of Colombia’s new national intelligence agency. Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, along with National Security Adviser, Sergio Jaramillo, met with the director of Britain’s secret service MI6 to exchange experiences in intelligence to implement the new National Intelligence Agency of Colombia (ANIC). ANIC is supposed to replace the DAS, Colombia’s disgraced intelligence agency, which has been stigmatized by colluding with paramilitary groups and spying on union leaders, journalists and opposition politicians.
►►US intelligence to train analysts with videogames. The US intelligence community’s research group, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), has handed over $10.5 million to Raytheon BBN Technologies to start work on the Sirius program. The initiative aims to create a series of so-called “serious games” that would help intelligence analysts improve their objectivity and reasoned judgment when confronted with complex or culturally foreign scenarios.
►►Soviet spy who spent years in Swiss prison dies at 77. Vitaly Shlykov served for 30 years in the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, known as GRU. During his career, he made frequent trips to the West on a false American passport. One of his duties was to maintain contacts with Dieter Felix Gerhardt, a senior officer of the South African Navy who was working as a Soviet spy. In 1983, Shlykov was arrested in Zurich while carrying about $100,000 in cash to hand over to Gerhardt’s wife. Soviet intelligence was unaware that Gerhardt and his wife had been arrested a few weeks earlier and had told interrogators about the meeting in Switzerland.


Husain HaqqaniHusain Haqqani

►►Korean ex-soldier investigated for spying. Police suspect that a former South Korean Army soldier, Kim, 34, whose full name was undisclosed to the media, crossed through Shenyang, northeastern China, into the North and handed over information gathered during and after his military service. This is the second case involving alleged North Korean spying on the South in as many days.
►►Pakistan ambassador to US resigns over spy memo row. Islamabad’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, has resigned after a confrontation between Pakistan’s military and the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari. His resignation follows reports of an offer by the Pakistani government to the United States to rein in the army and its spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. Zardari’s government was accused of treachery over the proposal, which was made in a memo delivered to the US military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen.
►►US says ‘no proof’ of Libyan ex-spy chief’s capture. It emerged earlier this week that former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi had been captured. But the United States now says there is no proof he is in custody. According to Susan Rice, the US envoy to the United Nations, Libyan authorities “were not able to confirm that Senussi was in anybody’s custody”.


Abdullah al-SenussiAl-Senussi

►►Is Britain secretly assisting the CIA’s drone campaign? In the latest casualties from America’s hidden war in Pakistan, two British nationals, Ibrahim Adam and Mohammed Azmir, have reportedly been killed by drone missiles. The death of two men already known to UK authorities raises serious questions about the role that the British intelligence services are playing in the CIA’s unmanned drone war.
►►Gaddafi’s intelligence chief captured. Libya’s interim authorities have captured the last totem of the Gaddafi regime, seizing former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi in the country’s southern desert. The arrest means that all leading figures from the Gaddafi regime have now been killed, captured or driven into exile.
►►South Korea says it caught North spy. A North Korean spy has been arrested after arriving in South Korea posing as a refugee, according to South Korean authorities. The latter claim to have found during a routine background check that the man, surnamed Kim, was assigned to the North’s military intelligence command and had received espionage training.

Did US agencies fail to heed warnings of 2008 Mumbai attacks?

November 24, 2011
David Coleman HeadleyDavid Headley

We have written before that the CIA alerted Indian authorities prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including six American citizens. The incident, which was perpetrated by Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, is routinely described as the most sophisticated and spectacular terrorist strike since 9/11.  But there are numerous questions about the complex relationship between the United States, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, which is widely believed to be protecting the terrorist group. Many of these questions center on David Coleman Headley, an American citizen, born in Washington, DC, who is currently in US custody, having confessed to helping plan the Mumbai attacks. According to Headley’s own court testimony, he worked for the ISI; moreover, despite early denials, the US government eventually admitted that Headley was a paid informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration. There is, however, intense speculation in India and Pakistan that Headley, who is of Pakistani background, is in fact a CIA agent-gone-rogue, who used his CIA connections to pursue his militant plans undisturbed (something with the CIA flatly denies). Such rumors are reinforced by the US authorities’ puzzling refusal to allow Indian government investigators of the Mumbai attacks access to Headley. The curious relationship between US intelligence agencies and David Headley has been probed by several media outlets, including The New York Times, which in March of 2010 pointed out that Headley “moved effortlessly between the United States, Pakistan and India for nearly seven years, training at a militant camp in Pakistan on five occasions”. Now a new documentary by investigative group ProPublica, which aired on Tuesday as part of PBS’ Frontline television series, has unearthed new information that shows US government agencies failed to heed “repeated warnings over seven years”, which might have helped prevent the Mumbai attacks. The documentary, which exhibits the results of a yearlong investigation, did not find proof that Headley was employed as a US agent at the time of the terrorist attacks. But it lends credence to the view that Headley’s role as “an informant or ex-informant” allowed him to elude detection by the CIA, as he was helping plan the terrorist attacks in India. The program, which may be watched online here, includes an interview with India’s former Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, who opines that Headley was “a double agent”. It also features interviews with current and former intelligence officials, including Charles S. Faddis, a former CIA covert operations officer who worked in South Asia.

Secrecy News

November 23, 2011


The three ongoing prosecutions under the Espionage Act of individuals who allegedly “leaked” classified information to the press are slowly moving forward.

Prosecutors will present their opening brief to an appeals court in the case of Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former CIA officer who is accused of leaking classified information to author James Risen, on January 13, 2012, according to a proposed briefing schedule that was filed yesterday.

The prosecution of Sterling has been suspended in lower court while the government appeals several court rulings that it considers unfavorable.

Specifically, the government wants to overturn the court’s finding that Mr. Risen is protected by a “reporter’s privilege” and cannot be compelled to identify his source.  Prosecutors also want to reverse what they described as an order relating to the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) that the identity of certain government witnesses must be disclosed to the defendant and the jury.  Finally, they are appealing an order that eliminated two potential government witnesses because prosecutors failed to disclose adverse information about the witnesses in a timely manner, a November 9 docketing statement said.

Interestingly, defense attorneys deny that the second issue involving disclosure of witness identities is a CIPA issue that can be appealed at this stage.  They point out that “No order has been entered by the District Court allowing the defendant, over the Government’s objection, to disclose any classified information.  No sanctions have been imposed upon the Government for refusing to allow for the disclosure of any classified information by the defendant in any manner.”  Therefore, “Mr. Sterling does not agree that this appeal raises any issues appealable under CIPA.”

It was also announced yesterday that the case of Army Private Bradley Manning, the suspected WikiLeaks source, will proceed to what is called an Article 32 hearing on December 16 at Fort Meade, Maryland.

“The primary purpose of the Article 32 hearing is to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the government’s case as well as to provide the defense with an opportunity to obtain pretrial discovery,” according to Private Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs. “The defense is entitled to call witnesses during the hearing and to also cross examine the government’s witnesses.”

The other ongoing leak prosecution under the Espionage Act is that of former State Department contractor Stephen Kim, who is accused of leaking classified information to Fox News reporter James Rosen.  The prosecution of Mr. Kim is still in an early stage of pre-trial discovery, according to a November 15 status report.


The U.S. government response to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal paramilitary group in Uganda, is discussed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The Obama Administration has provided humanitarian and operational support to Ugandan efforts to counter the LRA.  Most recently, the U.S. has authorized the deployment of U.S. military advisers to assist the Ugandan military in the anti-LRA campaign.

“The U.S. approach to the LRA raises a number of issues for policymakers, some of which could have implications far beyond central Africa,” the CRS report said. “A key question, for some, is whether the response is commensurate with the level of threat the LRA poses to U.S. interests, and whether the deployment of U.S. military personnel could lead to unintended consequences. More broadly, decisions on this issue could potentially be viewed as a precedent for U.S. responses to similar situations in the future.”

A copy of the new report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S. Response,” November 21, 2011.


The JASON defense advisory panel held its Fall meeting last weekend with briefings on a range of national security topics.  A copy of the program from the closed meeting is posted here.

The JASONs completed at least seven studies this year for various government agencies with titles such as “Solar EMP” and “Domestic Nuclear Surge Operations.”  Secrecy News has requested review of those studies for public release.

Intelligence News YOU may have missed (Israel Edition)

November 23, 2011
Ari Ben-MenasheAri Ben-Menashe

►►What are Mossad ex-chief’s business ties to Uganda? Former director of operations in the Israeli spy agency Mossad, Rafi Eitan, is now a private businessman. Yet he helped organize Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s recent visit to Israel. He is said to have been trying to establish business operations in Uganda and to set up a cattle ranch in the country.

►►Israel FM meets Mossad chief in bid to end row. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met on Sunday with Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, in a bid to end the crisis between the two men, which culminated last week, when Lieberman ordered the foreign ministry to boycott the Mossad, to stop sharing information and to refrain from inviting Mossad officials to discussions and meetings.
►►Canada’s spy watchdog’s in shady deal with Israeli businessman. Arthur Porter, the federally appointed chairman of Canada’s Security and Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), wired $200,000 in personal funds to Ari Ben-Menashe. A former Israeli government employee, Ben-Menashe was charged in the United States with illegally attempting to sell military planes to Iran. He said that he acted on orders from Israel. He then wrote a memoir called Profits of War, filled with accounts of international espionage and conspiracies he says he either participated in or was privy to.

Hezbollah uncovered CIA network in Lebanon, admit US officials

November 23, 2011
Hezbollah rallyHezbollah rally

In June of this year, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed it had rooted out three of its members who were allegedly spying for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The US State Department refused to comment on the allegations, and the US embassy in Lebanon issued a statement denying Hezbollah’s accusation. But the Associated Press now says that the Lebanese Shiite group’s claims were accurate, and that the CIA has had to significantly scale back its operations in Lebanon, as a result of Hezbollah’s counterintelligence success. The news agency cites current and former US officials, who say that the Agency’s operations in Lebanon were “badly damaged” after Hezbollah identified and captured several CIA ‘assets’. It appears that the militant group, which controls large parts of southern Lebanon, was able to capture CIA agents —local ‘assets’ recruited by CIA case officers to spy on behalf of Washington— but not actual CIA officers. Still, according to the Associated Press, the operational blow suffered by the Agency’s station in the Near Eastern country has been substantial, and local CIA case officers “have secretly been scrambling to protect their remaining spies […] before Hezbollah can find them”. The agency quotes an unnamed government source, who claims that the damage to the CIA’s network of agents in Lebanon has been “greater than usual”. Many attribute the Shiite group’s counterintelligence success to a relatively new counterespionage apparatus, which Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Hasrallah often calls the “spy combat unit”. The group, which is said to have gone operational in 2004, is responsible for essentially decimating Israel’s intelligence network in southern Lebanon, having conducted over 100 arrests since 2009.  But one government official told the Associated Press that substandard performance by CIA personnel was also to blame for the Agency’s setback, as “CIA officers fell into predictable patterns when meeting their sources”. This may be seen as implying that it was CIA officers who unwillingly led Hezbollah to US assets, rather than the other way around. The report states that Hezbollah’s success is “particularly troubling” for the Agency because senior officials in Langley, including the head of the agency’s counterintelligence operations, had been warned in advance about the danger. The unnamed US officials told the news agency that the impact of the incident on the CIA’s espionage operations in Lebanon remains unclear.

Leaked documents show capabilities of new surveillance technologies

November 21, 2011
Net Optics logoNet Optics logo

A trove of hundreds of documents, obtained by participants in a secretive surveillance conference, displays in unprecedented detail the extent of monitoring technologies used by governments around the world. The Wall Street Journal, which obtained the leaked documents, says they number in the hundreds; they were reportedly authored by 36 different private companies that specialize in supplying government agencies with the latest surveillance hardware and software. They were among dozens of vendors that participated in an unnamed conference near Washington, DC, in October, which attracted interested buyers from numerous government agencies in America and beyond. The Journal, which has uploaded scanned copies of the leaked documents, says that many include descriptions of computer hacking tools. The latter enable government agencies to break into targeted computers and access data stored in hard drives, as well as log keystrokes by the targeted computers’ users. Other applications target cellular telecommunications, especially the latest models of so-called ‘smartphones’; one vendor in particular, Vupen Security, gave a presentation at the conference, which describes how its products allow for electronic surveillance of cell phones by exploiting security holes unknown to manufacturers. Some of the most popular products at the conference related to what the industry calls “massive intercept” monitoring, namely large-scale software systems designed to siphon vast amounts of telephonic or email communications data, or to capture all Internet exchanges taking place within a country’s computer network. One conference participant, California-based Net Optics Inc., bragged in its presentation about having enabled “a major mobile operator in China” to conduct “real-time monitoring” of all cell phone [and] Internet content on its network. The stated goal of the surveillance was to “analyze criminal activity” and “detect and filter undesirable content”. Earlier this month, intelNews relayed news reports of Italian and French companies helping equip Syrian authorities with a state-of-the-art email surveillance systems able to “intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country”. In August, we reported on allegations that German and Finnish companies, including Siemens, help the repressive government of Bahrain keep tabs on political organizing on the Internet. The same company, Siemens, was accused in 2009 of installing and maintaining the Iranian government’s telecommunications surveillance and interception system, which allows it to “examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale”. The Journal spoke to Jerry Lucas, president of TeleStrategies Inc., which organized October’s conference; he argued that the event was “not political”: “we don’t really get into asking, ‘is this in the public interest?’”, he said.

Intelligence News YOU may have missed…….

November 21, 2011
Tommy DouglasTommy Douglas

►►Some spy files on Canadian prominent politician released. Newly declassified records from the early 1960s show that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police spied on Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas (pictured), suspecting him of communist sympathies. Douglas, a popular leftwing politician, led the first social democratic government in North America.

►►Aussie diplomats urged to welcome defectors in 1980s. The Australian government urged its spies and diplomats to encourage foreign officials to defect to Australia and welcome intelligence they might bring with them, according to internal documents from the 1980s, released this week. The directives noted that applications from defectors were not expected to be numerous “but failure on our part to handle them deftly could result in the loss of intelligence relevant to Australia’s security and other interests”. One observer notes that the 1980s policy towards defectors still applies today in Australia’s diplomatic community.
►►Iran arrests two Kuwaitis on suspicion of espionage. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency says Iranian security has detained two Kuwaiti citizens in southwestern Iran for suspected espionage activities. Fars quoted Bahram Ilkhaszadeh, governor of Abadan, a town close to Kuwait, as saying that Iran’s security agents detained the two on possession of “spying equipment”. Kuwait has denied the charges.