spies, national security, espionage, counterterrorism, u.s. foreign policy, intelligence operations, CIA, special forces, counterterrorism, terrorism
Showing posts with label Counterterrorism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Counterterrorism. Show all posts

Saturday, June 29, 2013

New Study Urges Shift in Counterterrorism Strategy


The portrait of the Islamic terrorist as a rejected and disaffected loner, fueled by such events such as the Boston Marathon bombings, is broadly shared by experts and public safety officials.

But the simple image of an unstable Muslim being radicalized and turning to terrorism is slowly losing legitimacy among scholars and policy makers, a new academic article suggests.

Monika Bartoszewicz, of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, argues that American policy should not be focused on the disaffected minority but on promoting stable relations with the non-radicalized majority.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why Didn't Russia Arrest Tamerlan Tsarnaev?


People are squabbling over whether the FBI and CIA let the Tsarnaev brothers slip through their fingers.

To that we'd add: If Tamerlan Tsarnaev was such a terrorist threat, why didn’t the Russians arrest him? Or take away his passport? After all, Chechan Islamists are far more a threat to Moscow than the United States, even counting their soldierly duty with al Qaeda in South Asia.

Philip Mudd, a former deputy director of both the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and the FBI National Security Branch, offered a heated defense of the intelligence agencies' performance in the Tsarnaev case on the Charlie Rose show Tuesday night.

The Tsarnaevs had no known involvement with terrorist groups, as far as we know more than 10 days out from the Patriots Day attack. Even “if they had an operational linkage back home,” Mudd said, “I can’t figure out what kind of capabilities that operational linkage offered them.”

At least one of the Tsarnaevs did frequent Islamist Web sites, though, and reportedly learned how to make their crude bombs from the online English-language al Qaeda magazine “Inspire.”

Otherwise, investigators say now, they had no help.

Honing in on people who merely visit radical Web sites would be a fool’s errand, Mudd suggested, far beyond the capabilities of the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies, which are busy enough tracking real threats.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ricin Case Hearing Postponed, Settlement Could Be Near


The third day of hearings in the case of a Mississippi man accused of mailing ricin-tainted letters to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a local judge was unexpectedly cancelled Tuesday.

According to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, "additional news will be presented later today, his defense counsel announced to reporters in the Oxford courtroom."

The announcement could mean a plea bargain is imminent.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shameless Lindsey Graham's Boston Cracks Blow Up in His Face


Does Lindsey Graham have a screw loose? Or is he just shameless in his latest attempt to wring partisan advantage from a national tragedy?

Whatever, his latest attacks on an American intelligence agency blew up on him Monday like a trick cigar.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Bomb Case Will be Solved Quickly

Or so I predicted on Washington, DC's WUSA-TV-9 today.

The intelligence technologies and policies developed in the past dozen years -- the same ones that give civil libertarians pause (and rightly, I should add) -- provide  the FBI and other investigative agencies vastly more power to solve the case than were available before the 9/11 attacks.  Watch it here.

How They Will Investigate the Boston Bombing

Former White House Counterterrorism Adviser Richard A. Clarke says U.S. security agencies have a wealth of investigative resources and techniques to employ against whomever carried out Monday's horrific bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

"While detectives and federal agents have started the laborious process of interviewing thousands of people in Boston, much of the work that is likely to be key to solving the Boston Bombing is technical and forensic," Clarke said on his FaceBook page.

Video from bystanders' cell phones, retail outlets and traffic cameras could provide quick clues to the perpetrators. The National Security Agency will also zero in on cell phone traffic around Boston and to such terrorist lairs and Pakistan and Yemen, he said. 

The resources that the government can bring to the case a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks are stupendous, said Clarke, a White House counterterrorism adviser to both Bushes and President Clinton.

"First, the FBI will stitch together hundreds of hours of video camera recordings from private and public surveillance and traffic cameras, as well as recordings made by private citizens attending the race. They will look for when the bombs might have been left behind and then examine the faces of everyone who was in the area around that time. They will try to put names to those faces, using facial recognition matching software, drawing on drivers license, passport, and visa databases."

After agents from Israel's Mossad carried out an assassination in Dubai, Clark said, "the police in the United Arab Emirates were able to recreate most of the the assassination operation by using snippets from dozens of surveillance cameras. For the FBI in Boston, a similar process has now begun."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Did Brennan Get a Free Pass from Mazzetti?


The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti is churning up a lot of positive buzz with his new book, “The Way of the Knife,” excerpted in the Times this week.

But at least one critic who closely follows the shadow wars thinks current Obama administration officials, especially CIA Director John Brennan, the former White House counterterrorism advisor, is getting a free pass in Mazzetti’s account of the CIA’s drone war and other clandestine counterterrorism programs since 9/11.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Justice Dept's Kid Gloves Audit of FBI Datamining Unit

The Justice Department essentially put lipstick on a pig Thursday with its audit of a little-known and controversial FBI surveillance program, the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Sen. Rand Paul added to Washington's snowquester misery Wednesday by launching a talkathon against the nomination of John Brennan, which the Senate Intelligence Committee tepidly approved by a 12-3 vote yesterday, to be CIA director.

You can watch it live on CSPAN.

Paul's soft-toned wrath was directed at the Obama administration's assertion, in a letter to him from Attorney General Eric Holder, that the U.S. government theoretically had the power to order drone strikes against noncombatant Americans on U.S. soil.

"In a democracy you could elect someone who is very evil," Paul warned. "That's why we don't give this power to the government." Americans can't accept their government launching such attacks on "a whim," Paul said, noting that drone strikes in the AfPak region were sometimes fueled by rumors and directed "at caravans," not known terrorists.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Exactly What Is a Lone Wolf Terrorist?

By Sally Farrington

Three years ago last month a single engine plane was deliberately flown into an Austin office building that headquartered the regional office of the Internal Revenue Service.  The pilot, Joseph Andrew Stack III, acted alone and with the intention to inflict damage on the IRS in particular and U.S. government in general, according to authorities.  That made him what’s called a “lone wolf terrorist,” a term whose definition is hotly debated but essentially describes an attacker who works with minimal or no support from an organized terrorist group.

According to terrorism analyst Jeffrey D. Simon and many other experts and government officials, the lone wolf, gliding under the radar of Western counterterrorism agencies, poses even more of a threat to our nation than known members of al Qaeda, Hezbollah or other groups. Indeed, in 2011, Congress renewed the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act and amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow for closer monitoring of such individuals.

Simon, a UCLA lecturer, former terrorism analyst at RAND and president of Political Risk Assessment, Inc.  argues for increased focus on the phenomenon in his new book, “Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.” But while he has written an engaging introduction to the subject, he does not conclusively answer the question: Exactly what is lone wolf terrorism?

Friday, February 1, 2013

CIA Station Chief Convicted in Italy Rendition Plot

Jeffrey Castelli, the CIA’s former Rome station chief, was sentenced in Italy Friday to seven years in jail for his part in the abduction of an al Qaeda suspect off a Milan street in 2003.

The sentence will have no effect unless Castelli enters Italian or other territories that have extradition treaties with Rome, thus subjecting himself to arrest.

Two other CIA operatives, Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando, were also both sentenced to six years in jail for their parts in the caper.

Update: Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro told SpyTalk the verdicts gave him no joy.

“It’s difficult for a prosecutor to rejoice at the sentence of some people," Spataro said by e-mail from Milan.

"But it’s important for the defense of human rights what the Milan Appeal Court said with the verdict: There are no reasons to justify  kidnappings and torture of the people. Not even if the democracies want to protect themselves from the terrorism.”

Thursday, January 31, 2013

AQ 2.0: The Limits of Intervention

Bad choices in 2013.

David Ignatius has an interesting piece today on the perilous options for the West in countering the “cancerous” spread of al-Qaeda in places like Mali.

“Striking at these local nodes — as the French are doing now in Mali — can disrupt the new terrorist cells," he writes. "But analysts stress that there will be consequences: The cells may metastasize further, drawing new jihadists into the fight and potentially threatening targets in Europe and the United States.”

Indeed, they’re everywhere, and nowhere, an annoyance that has become a public menace, like small time hoods hoping to become "made men.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who Is Lisa Monaco?

Lisa Monaco is a smart cookie, no doubt about that. And a true-blue Democrat.

The Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School grad, who turns 44 in February, has climbed so steadily through the government’s national security ranks that her new job as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Obama seems almost preordained. Rumors are flying that she may even replace Bob Mueller at the FBI before too long.

Yet it’s almost certain that few people outside of Washington’s insular national security world will ever have heard of her.

That’s because, unlike her predecessor John Brennan, she’s been an oiler in the machinery room of counterterrorism, not a boss man from one of the alphabet agencies -- CIA, FBI, NSA and the like.

But she has had friends in high places, starting with Joe Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Monaco worked there as research coordinator from 1992 to 1994, according to the questionnaire she filled out during her confirmation process 20 years later to be assistant attorney general for national security.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Zero Dark Thirty Gets Right

Almost everything written about “Zero Dark Thirty" has focused on whether its version of torture’s A-to-B roll in getting Osama Bin Laden is accurate. (It’s not, by most authoritative accounts.)

But what’s gone missing is its fairly realistic portrayal of the sheer number of people, not to mention time and patience, involved in carrying out clandestine human intelligence operations, not just the ones focused on Bin Laden.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Broadwell's Petraeus Book Rushing to Paperback

Penquin Books is working overtime to rush out the paperback version of Paula Broadwell’s infamous biography, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” according to an industry insider.

Hey, it’s a business.

Surely not far behind: A tell-all about her affair with the legendary ex-general. (“All Out”?)  After that, it's not hard to see a cable movie, even a talk show, advice column, beauty tips and TV commercials in her future.

What a great country.

And it would hardly be a surprise.

According to voluminous news reports, including today’s riveting Washington Post story on Broadwell’s dizzying accent through the capitol’s military and think-tank elites, the comely West Point grad and long distance jogger is quite the striver, shedding prevarications in her resume like so many candy wrappers.

Speaking of which, Penguin might consider editing her author’s bio on its web page.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Benghazi Debacle: FUBAR

On the very first night of my arrival in Vietnam to take over a secret intelligence operation, I was invited with my team to attend a cocktail party at the American consulate in Da Nang, an old French colonial port city on the central coast. I was so new, I was memorizing my cover story even as we drove to the consulate.

I was going to be running a “unilateral” espionage operation, which is to say, I not only wouldn't work with my South Vietnamese counterparts, who were heavily infiltrated by the communists, I was to consider them potential enemy agents, too.

A South Vietnamese colonel approached me during the party and asked what I did.  Using my fresh-from-language school Vietnamese, I told him that I was Army civilian working with a civilian refugee assistance program.

“Oh,”  he said with a smirk, “you’re a spook.” 

I froze. Later on, driving back to our safe house (in a Jeep painted black with diplomatic license tags, no less), I nervously told my teammates about the encounter with the colonel.

“Oh, that’s nothing”, one said, chuckling. “The Green Berets captured a Vietcong terrorist map six months ago. It had a big X on our house.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Nothing,” they said in unison, smiling with war-weariness. “Obviously we haven't moved.

"It’s just Fubar."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Operation Shockwave: A CIA Op Against Iran that Worked

Judging by news reports over the years, the CIA hasn’t done very well against Iran -- not counting the string of assassinations of nuclear scientists credited to Israel, the CIA’s partner in covert operations.

Of course, initial news reports of secret operations are not entirely reliable--or at least fall short of telling the whole story.

But periodic reports surface of CIA spy nets rolled up by the Iranians or its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. This week came Tehran’s giddy announcement that it had broken up an Israeli "terror and sabotage network" inside Iran.

But the CIA and Mossad have had their innings against the Islamic Republic, too.

One was “Operation Shockwave,” a joint covert action against Iranian intelligence in the late 1990s that has received virtually no attention here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The CIA's Man in Cairo Emerges in Egypt Elections

Back in late January, 2011, with the long reign of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak tottering in the wind, the most electrifying prospect to succeed him was Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei--at least in the eyes of many an outside observer.

Wrong, I wrote after surveying experts on Egypt's partnership with the Clinton and Bush administration's CIA renditions programs: It would be Gen. Omar Suleiman, the chief of Egyptian intelligence -- the CIA's man in Cairo. 

But Suleiman stayed largely in the wings through the downfall of Mubarak, the euphoria of the Arab Spring, and even the evolution of "temporary" military caretakers to a seemingly permanent ruling junta.

Mubarak might've even thought Suleiman could save his reign, by appointing the spy chief vice president as crowds swelled in Tahir Square.

It was not to be. Mubarak was soon gone.

After the euphoria faded, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as an ominous slate to take over Egypt.

This, for sure, was an unacceptable prospect for the West, and particularly Washington.

Suddenly, on Friday, the former spy chief stepped from the shadows to throw his fez into the race for president.

Monday, November 21, 2011

CIA Rocked Again By Iran's Counterspies

It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again, former CIA operatives say.

The CIA just doesn’t seem to have its groove when it comes to operations against Iran.

Poor intelligence tradecraft -- the tricks of the game -- have repeatedly doomed the CIA operations, former agency officers say.

Of course, the CIA doesn’t broadcast its spying successes -- or comment on failed operations-- so a balanced picture is nearly impossible to compile.

But from what the world knows about CIA operations against Iran (and its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon),  something seriously needs fixing -- again and again.

According to the Associated Press and other news organizations, the latest of several operations against Iran (and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah) blew up in its face last summer.

Iran’s counterspies were able to identify a dozen or so CIA informants in Beirut and elsewhere by analyzing their cell phone traffic.

“Beirut station is out of business,” the Los Angles Times reported, citing an unnamed source.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Finally, a TV Spy Drama That Gets It Right on Torture

Homeland,” the buzz-generating serial thriller on Showtime, finally got something right the other night: How to interrogate a terrorist. 

Much about the show, starring Claire Danes as a manic-depressive CIA counterterrorism agent, is downright ridiculous, of course, starting with her obsession that she was somehow singularly responsible for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks. 

In reality, not a single CIA official took blame for the manifold intelligence failures of 9/11, much less resigned over them.

Also in the show, Danes’s character Carrie Mathison gets green-lighted by her mentor to run an off-the-books, round-the-clock video surveillance of a U.S. Marine whom she suspects of having been “turned” by terrorists who held him in captivity for eight years. For days on end, she and a CIA techie watch his every move.

Now that’s funny.