I don’t think of STRATFOR as a cyber shop, generally, but this is worth a look.
I don’t think of STRATFOR as a cyber shop, generally, but this is worth a look.
The US Attorney General Eric Holder, supported diplomatically by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, charged the Iranian government earlier today with a plot to enlist a Mexican narco-cartel to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. SECSTATE Hillary Clinton, the FBI Director and President Barack Obama have all weighed in on this issue with strong public statements:
U.S. authorities said they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.
Iran denied the charges. But President Barack Obama called the plot a “flagrant violation of U.S. and international law” and Saudi Arabia said it was “despicable.” Revelation of the alleged plot, and the apparent direct ties to the Tehran government, had the potential to further inflame tensions in the Middle East, and the United States said Tehran must be held top account.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a Reuters interview, expressed hope that countries that have hesitated to enforce existing sanctions on Iran would now “go the extra mile.” At a news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the convoluted plot, involving monitored international calls, Mexican drug money and an attempt to blow up the ambassador in a Washington restaurant, could have been straight from a Hollywood movie.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder alleged that the plot was the work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the guardian of Iran’s 32-year-old revolution, and the Quds force, its covert, operational arm. “High-up officials in those (Iranian) agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot,” Holder told the news conference.
“I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here,” he said….
I confess that I am not quite sure what to make of this story.
If accurate – the case originated with a DEA confidential informant in Mexico – it would amount to a new stage of reckless boldness by Iran’s hardline Pasdaran clique of security and intelligence agencies run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their retired leadership that have a semi-hegemony over the Iranian regime. It also points to the danger to American national security of a long, basically open, border with a failing state Mexico that is deeply embattled in a polycentric counterinsurgency war with the rapidly morphing narco-cartels (that said, I do not expect the administration to move a policy inch to repair the latter). Why would Iran do this – and in such a harebrained manner?
Some possible motives:
* Internal factionalism – Iran recently released imprisoned American hikers, albeit after a substantial ransom payment. Potentially, this could be viewed in the topsy-turvy world of Iranian Islamist politics as a “goodwill gesture” toward the United States. Historically, such gestures provoke rival factions in Iran to initiate anti-American actions, including acts of terrorism, usually via proxies. If an intel operation was “factional” rather than blessed by a wide elite consensus, it might very well be a marginal idea carried out on a shoe-string.
* Counterpressue – Indirect Iranian skirmishing against the US which is drawing down in Iraq and is pressuring Iran’s ally Syria. Also against the Saudis who brutally suppressed a predominantly Shia “Arab Spring” rising in Bahrain which, if it had succeeded in toppling the regime, would have added Bahrain to the regional “Shia Revival”.
* Opportunism – The Pasdaran leadership may have believed the stories of American decline, assessed our extensive military commitments and budgetary problems and taken the Obama administration’s temperature and concluded that the benefits of carrying out the assassination outweighed the remote risk direct of US military retaliation.
Some points to consider:
* Proximity – Iran could more easily, with less risk and with far greater likelihood of success, carry out acts of anti-American terrorism closer to home in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan the Gulf States, even in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Acts of terrorism in the American homeland risk a massive overreaction by Washington ( the US only needs the Navy to deal out severe consequences to Iran) which might welcome a legitimate pretext to bomb all of Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities and national security sites.
* Self-Preservation by the Mexican narco-cartels make such cooperation with Iran less likely, having the example of their Colombian predecessors in the 1980’s before them when they raised the ire of the USG sufficiently. The narcos have their hands full fighting the Mexican Army and one another without adding the CIA, Global Predator drones or the SEALs to their plate.
* Friends of MeK – By some miraculous deus ex machina, the cultish, 1970’s era Iranian Marxoid terrorist group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MeK) have spent a wealth of funds to buy the lobbying services of a glittering array of former top US national security officials and general officers – despite being on the State Department’s official terrorist list.
….Among the new faces: former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton (D), who once chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and who served as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission; Ambassador Dell Dailey, who was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism from July 2007 to April 2009; General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009; and not one, but two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe and ex-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) also spoke.
In what should be a national scandal, those names are not even a comprehensive list of the very influential former politicians, K Street lobbyists and Beltway law firms accepting payments to whisper in the ears of current officials in the national security community, regarding Iran, on behalf of the MeK. Not sure how it is legal to do so either, since aiding a group on the State Department’s list by providing services normally can get you hauled into Federal court pronto, if you are an ordinary American citizen. A most curious situation….
I have no brief for Iran, the regime is a dedicated enemy of the United States, but a group of exiled Iranian Marxist-terrorists who used to work for Saddam Hussein hardly have our best interests at heart.
It will be interesting to watch this case unfold, but in the meantime, opinions are welcome in the comments, particularly on the Mexican narco-cartel angle.
Hat tip to James Bennett.
Israeli intelligence officers caught on camera moments before carrying out an assassination of a HAMAS terrorist.
“Information wants to be free” – Stewart Brand
You do not need to be Alvin Toffler or Marshall McLuhan to have noticed that as a result of the information revolution that in the past decade, much like individual privacy, secrecy has taken one hell of a beating. While Wikileaks document dumping demonstrated that much of what governments overclassify as “top secret” are often simply diplomatically sensitive or politically embarrassing material, the covert ops raid that killed Osama Bin Laden was a reminder that some actions, operations and lives are critically dependent on secrecy.
Secrecy in the sense of intelligence agencies and other actors being able to carry out clandestine and covert activities is rapidly eroding in the face of ominpresent monitoring, tracking, hacking, scanning, recognition software and the ability to access such data in real time, online, anywhere in the world. A few examples:
Col. TX Hammes at Best Defense –The Internet and social networks are making it harder to work undercover
It is virtually impossible for an agency to provide sufficient cover for a false name. If you provide information like where you went to school, what posts you have served before, etc., the information can be quickly checked. (Most yearbooks are online; graduates are listed in newspapers; property records, etc.) If you don’t provide that information, then your bio sticks out.
Giving an intern the list of names of personnel at an embassy and telling them to build the person’s bio from online sources — with cross-checking — will quickly cut through a light cover. It will also challenge even a well-constructed cover. I think this is going to be one of the challenges for human intelligence in the 21st century.
What makes the security camera shots released last night by the Dubai police interesting is the professionalism exhibited by the suspected assassins of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
They arrived on separate flights from different destinations; one of them flew in via Munich and Qatar. They stayed in different hotels and were careful to make phone calls using international routers. They wore clothing that makes them difficult to identify. One is seen with a mustache and a hat, others wearing hats and glasses. They try, throughout, to appear to be innocent tourists or business people, there to enjoy themselves and even play some tennis…
Pity the poor intelligence officer operating without diplomatic cover. A false beard and glassses will no longer suffice.
What kind of adaptions are possible or likely to take place by intelligence, law enforcement, military and corporate security agencies in the face of an emerging surveillance society? First, consider what clandestinity is often used for:
Taking the long term view will be required. Some thoughts:
One effect will be that marginal subpopulations that live “off the grid” will be at a premium someday for recruitment as intelligence operatives. These “radical offliners” who have never had a retinal scan, been fingerprinted, had their DNA taken, attended public school, uploaded pictures or created an online trail, been arrested or worked in the legal economy will be fit to any false identity constructed and, if caught, are unidentifiable.
Another will be the creation of very long term, institutional, “false front” entities staffed by employees who will never know that the real purpose of the enterprise is to provide airtight legitimate covers and that the economic or other activities are merely ancillary. They won’t be standing jokes like Air America or the various business activities of Armand Hammer, but real organizations with only a few key insiders to facilitate periodic use for intelligence purposes. A similar tactic will be intel agencies “colonizing” legitimate entities like universities, law firms, consultancies, media, financial institutions, logistical and transhipping corporations and NGO’s with deep cover officers who are intended to make ostensible careers there. This of course, is part of basic intelligence history but the scale, subtlety and complexity will have to significantly increase if authentic “legends” are to stick.
Then there’s the creepier and less ethical path of intelligence agencies stealing and using the identities of real citizens, which hopefully a democratic state would eschew doing but which bad actors do now as a matter of course in the criminal world.
Speed will also be an option. As with the Bin Laden raid, fast will increasingly go hand in hand with secret, the latter being a transient quality. If you cannot avoid detection, like the Mossad agents out playing tennis on survellance video, beat the reaction time. Clandestine may also come to mean “Cyber” and “Robotic” moreso than “HUMINT”
Being invisible in plain sight is an art that will grow increasingly rare.
As Pakistan’s corrupt military-feudal elite scramble to put out smoke after Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in an ISI safe house in Abbottabad and hire K Street lawyer-lobbyists like Mark Siegel at $ 75,000 a month, there are senior officials in Washington, inside and outside of the DoD, who doggedly championed Pakistan and defended the ISI behind closed doors. These officials, as one DC correspondent in the know related to me, are now looking extremely foolish to their peers, even as they double-down and attempt to salvage a thoroughly discredited policy by spinning hard.
While attention is focused in Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan’s dreaded ISI is quietly going on trial. In Chicago.
An important post from Pundita:
This follows on my Tuesday post. The quotes I’ve pulled from ProPublica’s latest report on the upcoming trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana will be upsetting to anyone who believes the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will change in significant fashion in light of the revelation that Osama bin Laden was quartered in a Pakistan garrison town.The ProPublica report presents clear evidence that all costs, including running roughshod over the American criminal justice system, the United States government will continue to cover for Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, as it’s done for decades. This is a point I emphasized in the Tuesday post so for anyone who thought I was being unduly pessimistic, read on. And be sure to read the rest of the report at the ProPublica site.Note from the report that the U.S. “intelligence community” still refuses to look at the Mumbai massacre in the context of the history of Pakistani military-sponsored terrorism and massacres going back decades. The community, at least according to the source ProPublica quotes, still insists that rogue officers, not the ISI institution, were responsible for the massacre in Mumbai.Before proceeding with the quotes I’ll note that ProPublica is an award-winning nonprofit American investigative journalism organization. It’s been keeping a close eye on Rana’s upcoming trial and other issues related to the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India — to my knowledge the only U.S. media outlet that’s doing so despite the fact that six Americans were killed in the massacre. Here’s the link to earlier ProPublica reports on the issues.I’ve also included excerpts from a report posted at the Times of India news website that provide additional details about Rana and his trial.May 4, 2011, 5:11 p.m.
Pakistan’s Terror Ties at Center of Upcoming Chicago Trial
by Sebastian Rotella
ProPublicaIt may be years, if ever, before the world learns whether Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) helped hide Osama bin Laden. But detailed allegations of ISI involvement in terrorism will soon be made public in a federal courtroom in Chicago, where prosecutors last week quietly charged a suspected ISI major with helping to plot the murders of six Americans in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.The indictment has explosive implications because Washington and Islamabad are struggling to preserve their fragile relationship. The ISI has long been suspected of secretly aiding terrorist groups while serving as a U.S. ally in the fight against terror. The discovery that bin Laden spent years in a fortress-like compound surrounded by military facilities in Abbottabad has heightened those suspicions and reinforced the accusations that the ISI was involved in the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.“It’s very, very troubling,” said Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House Appropriations sub-committee that oversees funding of the Justice Department. Wolf has closely followed the Mumbai case and wants an independent study group to review South Asia policy top-to-bottom.“Keep in mind that we’ve given billions of dollars to the Pakistani government,” he said. “In light of what’s taken place with bin Laden, the whole issue raises serious problems and questions.”?
Read the rest here.
Read Propublica’s Mumbai Terror Attacks series.
If you have not heard about the Mumbai terrorism trial in Chicago, being carried out by Federal uber-prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald who is also prosecuting the high-profile, politically sensitive, retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic, it is no accident. In deference to State and the DoD, the Department of Justice is not exactly shouting about this terrorism case from the rooftops.
But somebody should.
There’s a lot of angst in this section of the blogosphere about the lack of strategy and the USG not looking at the larger picture. Well, the death of Bin Laden in the heartland of the military power structure that really rules Pakistan has been a wake up call that sent a normally somnambulent Congress into a state of anxiety. Good. Maybe if senators and congressmen hear from their constituents, they will less likely to be lulled to sleep again by Pakistan’s salaam alaikum‘ corner.
It is long past time for a deep, strategic, rethink of what ends America wants to accomplish in Central Asia and some hardheaded realism about who our friends really are.
Christine Fair, an associate professor and Pakistan expert at Georgetown University in Washington DC, said Pakistan’s “record of helping us with al Qaeda is indisputable.”
Indisputable, huh? How about if you and I take a trip down memory lane, Professor Fair? Let’s link arms and skip back along a path piled high on either side with bodies of American dead.
The U.S. government paid their counterpart in Pakistan $25 million for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. They paid $10 for another top al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah.
Then Rawalpindi showed photographs of dead men with beards to the CIA, told them the corpses were al Qaeda operatives they’d killed, and got paid tens of millions of dollars in bounty. Some of those photographs cost the CIA one million dollars a pop.
I don’t think being skinned counts as receiving indisputable help, particularly when all signs point to top al Qaeda operatives such as KSM being ISI assets that the ISI sacrificed because they wanted the bounty money to keep themselves in business.
If you’d like to review the bounty program in detail, Professor Fair, you can read my November 2009 post, How the U.S. government built a perpetual-motion war machine in Afghanistan and sacrificed American values in the process
The upshot of the bounty program is that together the U.S. and Pakistan built a kind of perpetual motion machine:
At the end of every complex set of transactions between the CIA and the ISI, yet more enemy combatants materialize, to be rounded up or dispatched, leading to yet more enemy combatants to attack ISAF troops and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, to be rounded up or dispatched, leading to — well, last night CNN reported that “Taliban” now control 80 percent of Afghanistan, even though only 7 percent of Afghanis support the Taliban.
The finding of Chicago-related terrorism plots on Osama bin Laden’s computer drives means that the trial takes on a new significance; Are Rana and Headley part of an operational cell designed to carry out attacks in the Windy City and not just a support team for Mumbai?
Chicago Tribune –Trial will probe alleged Chicago ties to Mumbai attack
While federal prosecutors link the alleged Mumbai plotters only to Lashkar, Headley has told investigators of a co-conspirator known only as “Major Iqbal,” who was working for Pakistan’s largest intelligence service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
Further, Rana’s attorneys have also alleged in court documents that Rana believed Headley was working for ISI.
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