The U.S. could have destroyed Iran’s entire infrastructure without dropping a single bomb

Tech Insider reports: The United States had a top-secret operation that gave it the ability to shut down much of Iran’s infrastructure ahead of a full-scale war, without a single bomb being dropped.

The incredible insight into a highly-classified cyber operation called Nitro Zeus was first exposed in the film “Zero Days” and later corroborated by The New York Times, which interviewed intelligence and military officials who were involved.

The film, directed by Alex Gibney, premieres on Friday.

“We spent hundreds of millions, maybe billions on it,” an anonymous National Security Agency source says in the film. “We were inside, waiting, watching. Ready to disrupt, degrade, and destroy those systems with cyber attacks. In comparison, Stuxnet was a back alley operation. [Nitro Zeus] was the plan for a full scale cyber war with no attribution.”

The source, whose face and voice are concealed throughout the film, is later revealed to be an actor reciting lines from testimony offered to Director Alex Gibney by CIA and NSA employees.

The focus of the “Zero Days” film is on Stuxnet — the world’s first cyber weapon — that was used against Iran’s nuclear facilities. But in researching for the film, Gibney found that malicious software was just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. [Continue reading…]

 

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White House opts for distraction of holiday weekend when disclosing dubious count on civilian death toll from drone strikes

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: The US government today claimed it has killed between 64 and 116 “non-combatants” in 473 counter-terrorism strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya between January 2009 and the end of 2015.

This is a fraction of the 380 to 801 civilian casualty range recorded by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from reports by local and international journalists, NGO investigators, leaked government documents, court papers and the result of field investigations.

While the number of civilian casualties recorded by the Bureau is six times higher than the US Government’s figure, the assessments of the minimum total number of people killed were strikingly similar. The White House put this figure at 2,436, whilst the Bureau has recorded 2,753.

Since becoming president in 2009, Barack Obama has significantly extended the use of drones in the War on Terror. Operating outside declared battlefields, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, this air war has been largely fought in Pakistan and Yemen.

The White House’s announcement today is long-awaited. It comes three years after the White House first said it planned to publish casualty figures, and four months after President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, said the data would be released.

The figures released do not include civilians killed in drones strikes that happened under George W Bush, who instigated the use of counter-terrorism strikes outside declared war zones and in 58 strikes killed 174 reported civilians. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: In a seeming acknowledgment that the long-anticipated disclosure would be greeted with skepticism by critics of the drone program, the administration issued the numbers on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. The use of a range of estimated civilian deaths underscored the fact that the government often does not know for sure the affiliations of those killed.

“They’re guessing, too,” said Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who has tracked civilian deaths for more than a decade. “Theirs may be a little more educated than my guesses. But they cannot be completely accurate.”

The disclosure about civilian deaths and the executive order, the subject of months of bureaucratic deliberations, carried broader significance. Issued about seven months before Mr. Obama leaves office, the order further institutionalized and normalized airstrikes outside conventional war zones as a routine part of 21st-century national security policy. [Continue reading…]

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Brexit crisis contributing to ‘daunting’ U.S. security challenges, CIA director says

The Guardian reports: The US is facing its most daunting national security challenge in a generation after the European Union was plunged into “crisis” by Britain’s vote to leave, the head of the CIA warned on Wednesday.

John Brennan insisted that Brexit would not undermine cooperation with MI6 in the fight against terrorism, but suggested that the EU, a bulwark of peace and stability since the fall of the Berlin wall, would now be preoccupied with the UK’s departure.

“In the 36 years since I first entered government, I have never been witnessing a time with such a daunting array of challenges to our nation’s security,” Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “Notable among those challenges is that some of the institutions and relationships that have been pillars of the post-cold war international system are under serious stress.

“Of all the crises the EU has faced in recent years, the UK vote to leave the EU may well be its greatest challenge. Brexit is pushing the EU into a period of introspection that will pervade virtually everything the EU does in the coming weeks, months and even years ahead,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Uncovered: Dark new CIA torture claims

The Daily Beast reports: The CIA said it would only torture detainees to psychologically break them, according to a previously-unreported passage from a 2007 Justice Department memo. It’s a claim that’s at odds with how congressional investigators say the agency really handled captives in the early days of the war on terror.

And it’s not the only eye-opening assertion found in newly declassified portions of Bush-era documents on the CIA’s use of torture. A second document says that the CIA believed itself to be legally barred from torturing others countries’ detainees — but not from using so-called enhanced interrogations on its own captives.

In a passage from a 2007 memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the CIA said it would only subject detainees to harsh techniques, such as waterboarding, in order to break a detainee down to the point where he would no longer withhold information. The interrogations weren’t designed to get answers to specific questions; in fact, the agency interrogator “generally does not ask questions… to which the CIA does not already know the answers,” the memo states.

But that claim is contradicted by the agency’s actual record, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the government to disclose the portions of the document. [Continue reading…]

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Washington’s war on ISIS is only making it stronger

Hassan Hassan writes: For the first time since U.S.-led coalition operations began two years ago, almost all of the group’s vital strongholds in Syria, Iraq, and Libya have come under serious pressure. In a recent statement, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the group’s spokesman, even alluded to the fact that followers should be prepared for losses, from Sirte to Mosul.

But while the group’s performance has hit an all-time low, its appeal does not seem to have diminished. CIA Director John Brennan recognizes this fact: “Despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield … our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 16, using another term for the Islamic State. “[A]s the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda.”

Brennan also confirmed that the CIA had found no “direct link” between Omar Mateen, the gunman in Orlando, and the Islamic State. This is no surprise, as Mateen does not seem to fit familiar patterns of dogmatic support for the group. In the space of three years, he had supported Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State. His profile suggests that he belongs in the category of sympathizers who are only superficially influenced by the organization’s ideology, but who nonetheless can be inspired to carry out attacks in its name.

Such sympathizers are not driven by the Islamic State’s military successes, such as the takeover of Mosul in the summer of 2014. The group built its narrative around Sunni victimization, an idea that both predates its establishment of a caliphate and continues to exert a strong pull on many in the Middle East. The Islamic State has also tapped into the rampant political stagnation and popular grievances to gain popular support beyond the number of people who actually joined its ranks.

Consider, for example, the ongoing offensives against the Islamic State in Fallujah, Raqqa, and Manbij. While Washington insists the onslaughts include forces that represent the Sunni Arab communities that dominate the three cities, the prominence of Iranian-backed sectarian militias and Kurdish groups has triggered outrage in groups that are otherwise hostile to the Islamic State.

Two examples stand out. As the People’s Protection Units advanced on Raqqa, the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently warned that civilians in the city were drifting toward the Islamic State due to their hatred for the Kurdish group. Meanwhile, Arabic media like al-Arabiya and al-Hayat — which last year described the offensive on the Islamic State-held city of Tikrit as a “liberation” — called the war on Fallujah a sectarian conflict, led by Iranian spymaster Qassem Suleimani.

Many observers throughout the region see Washington turning its back on Sunni civilians in order to cozy up to Tehran and Moscow. Reports in Arabic media have accused the United States of deliberately backing a sectarian war against Sunnis. This narrative invokes old patterns that could again help the Islamic State convert territorial losses into legitimacy among certain segments of the Sunni world. [Continue reading…]

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Former undercover CIA officer talks war and peace

 

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Russia is recruiting the U.S.’s rebel allies in Syria

Mike Giglio reports: The rebel commander was nervous. He had changed phone numbers and been difficult to reach before finally agreeing to meet in Antakya, a city near the border with war-torn Syria that has long swarmed with rebels, refugees, and spies. On the road to an out-of-the-way hotel, he told the driver to avoid the main route through town. “It’s better not to drive among all the people,” he said.

It was an open secret that the commander had once received cash and weapons from the CIA, part of a covert U.S. program that backs rebel groups against both ISIS and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

When his battalion was eventually driven from Syria by its jihadi rivals, like a number of U.S.-backed groups, he pleaded with his U.S. handlers for better support, but it wasn’t enough. So he was, he said, “out of the game.”

Now, he said, sitting at a quiet table at the hotel, he had received an offer that could bring him back in — and potentially make him even stronger than before.

He was being recruited, he said, to work for the U.S.’s rival in Syria: Russia.

“They told me, ‘We will support you forever. We won’t leave you on your own like your old friends did,’” he said. “Honestly, I’m still thinking about it.”

The commander said that five years into a war that has killed some 400,000 people and created nearly 5 million refugees, Russia is recruiting current and former U.S. allies to its side. His revelation was confirmed by four people who said they, too, had been approached with offers from Russia and by two Syrian middlemen who said they delivered them.

The moves come as Russia ratchets up its involvement in Syria with troops and airstrikes. Russia says its military campaign is designed to target ISIS — in reality it has targeted all rebels, including some who are still backed by the U.S., while also wreaking havoc on civilians.

The secret outreach shows that as it works to muscle the U.S. out of Syria, Russia isn’t just bombing the U.S.’s current and former rebel allies — it’s also working to co-opt them, launching a shadowy campaign that seeks to highlight U.S. weakness in Syria. Ultimately, Russia could be hoping to help Assad win the war by dividing the opposition, driving a wedge between rebel groups and their traditional backers, and getting them to turn their guns on his enemies. [Continue reading…]

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CIA and Pentagon bicker while Russia wipes out U.S.-backed rebels

The Daily Beast reports: U.S.-backed opposition forces in Syria’s largest city are facing a ferocious Russian-led assault, raising fears that the rebels could be eliminated in a matter of weeks.
So how are the Pentagon and the intelligence community responding?

By catfighting among themselves.

Two Department of Defense officials told The Daily Beast that they are not eager to support the rebels in the city of Aleppo because they’re seen as being affiliated with al Qaeda in Syria, or Jabhat al Nusra. The CIA, which supports those rebel groups, rejects that claim, saying alliances of convenience in the face of a mounting Russian-led offensive have created marriages of battlefield necessity, not ideology.

“It is a strange thing that DoD hall chatter mimics Russian propaganda,” one U.S. official, who supports the intelligence community position, wryly noted to Pentagon claims that the opposition and Nusra are one in the same.

But even if the rebels were completely separated from Nusra, there would still be something of a strategic conflict with U.S. military goals. The rebels in Aleppo, these Pentagon officials note, are fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime; the American military effort, on the other hand, is primarily about defeating the self-proclaimed Islamic State. [Continue reading…]

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CIA internal watchdog ‘accidentally’ destroyed its only copy of Senate torture report

Michael Isikoff reports: The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

While another copy of the report exists elsewhere at the CIA, the erasure of the controversial document by the office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident.

The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight “out of the Keystone Cops,” CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods. [Continue reading…]

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For Twitter, ties to CIA create worse ‘optics’ than links to Russian government

L Gordon Crovitz writes: Silicon Valley’s hostility to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement reached a new low last week when Twitter rejected the Central Intelligence Agency as a customer for data based on its tweets — while continuing to serve an entity controlled by Vladimir Putin.

The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Twitter decided U.S. intelligence services could no longer buy services from Dataminr, which has a unique relationship with Twitter. Dataminr is the only company Twitter allows to have access to its full stream of hundreds of millions of daily tweets and sell the resulting intelligence to customers. Dataminr applies “big data” algorithms to identify unusual developments in real time. Customers who can profit from knowing about events instantly, such as hedge funds and news publishers, pay a hefty price for the alerts.

For the past two years, Dataminr provided its service to the CIA under a pilot program. The CIA and Dataminr then negotiated a contract to continue the service, but sources say Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey vetoed the contract at the last minute because he objects to the “optics” of continuing to help intelligence agencies. It’s unclear what happens to a small agreement Dataminr previously made with the Department of Homeland Security. With the new policy dictated by Twitter, Dataminr should drop the claim on its website that it includes “clients in the public sector, providing information first when there are lives at stake.”

Among the customers still getting the Dataminr alerts is RT, the broadcaster created and funded by the Russian government. Vladimir Putin has said that the government runs RT to “try to break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams.” RT disclosed it is a Dataminr customer in its news account of Twitter barring the CIA. Agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service, formerly known as the KGB, have full access via RT to the alerts now being denied to the CIA. [Continue reading…]

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Bob Graham: Release the uncensored truth about 9/11

Former senator Bob Graham writes: Nearly 15 years after the horrific events of 9/11, President Obama must decide whether to release 28 pages of information withheld as classified from the publicly released report of the congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans.

On April 10, the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a story about the missing 28 pages. I was one of several former public officials — including former House Intelligence Committee chairman and CIA director Porter Goss (R-Fla.) ; Medal of Honor recipient and former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.); former Navy secretary John Lehman; and former ambassador and representative Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) — who called on the White House to declassify and release the documents.

Two days after that broadcast, I received a call from a White House staff member who told me that the president would make a decision about the 28 pages no later than June. While that official made no promises as to what Obama would do, I viewed the news as a step in the right direction. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-funded Somali intelligence agency has been using kids as spies

The Washington Post reports: For years they were children at war, boys given rifles and training by al-Qaeda-backed militants and sent to the front lines of this country’s bloody conflict. Many had been kidnapped from schools and soccer fields and forced to fight.

The United Nations pleaded for them to be removed from the battlefield. The United States denounced the Islamist militants for using children to plant bombs and carry out assassinations.

But when the boys were finally disarmed — some defecting and others apprehended — what awaited them was yet another dangerous role in the war. This time, the children say, they were forced to work for the Somali government.

The boys were used for years as informants by the country’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), according to interviews with the children and Somali and U.N. officials. They were marched through neighborhoods where al-Shabab insurgents were hiding and told to point out their former comrades. The faces of intelligence agents were covered, but the boys — some as young as 10 — were rarely concealed, according to the children. Several of them were killed. One tried to hang himself while in custody.

The Somali agency’s widespread use of child informants, which has not been previously documented, appears to be a flagrant violation of international law. It raises difficult questions for the U.S. government, which for years has provided substantial funding and training to the Somali agency through the CIA, according to current and former U.S. officials.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the issue. But in the past the U.S. government has supported Somali security institutions — despite well-known human rights violations — citing the urgent need to combat terrorist groups such as al-Shabab. [Continue reading…]

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After presiding over bin Laden raid, CIA chief in Pakistan came home suspecting he was poisoned by ISI

The Washington Post reports: Two months after Osama bin Laden was killed, the CIA’s top operative in Pakistan was pulled out of the country in an abrupt move vaguely attributed to health concerns and his strained relationship with Islamabad.

In reality, the CIA station chief was so violently ill that he was often doubled over in pain, current and former U.S. officials said. Trips out of the country for treatment proved futile. And the cause of his ailment was so mysterious, the officials said, that both he and the agency began to suspect that he had been poisoned.

Mark Kelton retired from the CIA, and his health has recovered after he had abdominal surgery. But agency officials continue to think that it is plausible — if not provable — that Kelton’s sudden illness was somehow orchestrated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as the ISI. [Continue reading…]

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The CIA kidnapper facing jail in Italy

The Daily Beast reports: Former CIA employee Sabrina De Sousa, now fighting extradition from Portugal to Italy, was skiing on a mountainside far away from the action, on Feb. 17, 2003, when Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr was snatched off a street in Milan on his way to the mosque. The cleric, known as Abu Omar, was first flown by executive jet to Germany and then to Cairo, where he was tortured for nearly seven months, according to his own testimony and Amnesty International accounts.

The kidnap was part of the infamous “extraordinary rendition” program being run at the time by the United States. The CIA was grabbing suspected terrorists from all over the world and shipping them to various countries, including Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, to suffer the tortures of the damned and in some cases execution.

Begun under President Bill Clinton, the rendition program developed with a vengeance under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in America. And Abu Omar’s kidnapping took place only weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when the Bush administration was anxious to prove some link between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. (None existed.)

Abu Omar was believed to have funneled jihadists into the ranks of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was then operating out of northern Iraq and later founded the organization Al Qaeda in Iraq, that evolved into the so-called Islamic State. Italian authorities, backed by the CIA, believed he was plotting to blow up a busload of American students who attended an international high school in Milan. [Continue reading…]

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CIA torture architects’ day in court

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