Dismantling of Saudi-CIA Web site illustrates need for clearer cyberwar policies

From The Washington Post:

By early 2008, top U.S. military officials had become convinced that extremists planning attacks on American forces in Iraq were making use of a Web site set up by the Saudi government and the CIA to uncover terrorist plots in the kingdom.

“We knew we were going to be forced to shut this thing down,” recalled one former civilian official, describing tense internal discussions in which military commanders argued that the site was putting Americans at risk. “CIA resented that,” the former official said.

Elite U.S. military computer specialists, over the objections of the CIA, mounted a cyberattack that dismantled the online forum. Although some Saudi officials had been informed in advance about the Pentagon’s plan, several key princes were “absolutely furious” at the loss of an intelligence-gathering tool, according to another former U.S. official.

Four former senior U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified operations, said the creation and shutting down of the site illustrate the need for clearer policies governing cyberwar. The use of computers to gather intelligence or to disrupt the enemy presents complex questions: When is a cyberattack outside the theater of war allowed? Is taking out an extremist Web site a covert operation or a traditional military activity? Should Congress be informed?

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Italian court convicts 23 Americans of kidnapping in CIA rendition case

From Raw Story:

Twenty three Americans have been convicted in absentia, after an Italian court found them guilty of kidnapping in the CIA rendition of a Muslim cleric, the Associated Press reports. Three other Americans were acquitted.

The New York Times reported earlier today, “Italian prosecutors have charged the American officials, all but one of them alleged to be agents of the Central Intelligence Agency, and seven members of the Italian military intelligence agency, in the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, on Feb. 17, 2003. Prosecutors say the cleric was snatched in broad daylight, flown from an American air base in Italy to a base in Germany and then on to Egypt, where he claims he was tortured.”

According to the Times, “The Italian counterterrorism prosecutor Armando Spataro is seeking 13-year jail terms for Jeff Castelli, a former C.I.A. station chief in Rome, and Nicolò Pollari, a former head of Italian military intelligence, for their suspected roles in the abduction. He is seeking 12-year terms for Robert Seldon Lady, who as C.I.A. station chief in Milan is accused of having coordinated the operation, and Sabrina De Souza, who worked in the United States Embassy in Rome and is accused of having worked closely with Mr. Lady.”

Charges against Pollari and his deputy, as well as three other Italian defendants, were dropped “because Italy withheld evidence, contending it was classified information.” Pollari is also known as the Italian official who first brought to the attention of the White House claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger.

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Lawyer: CIA kept detainees alive to keep torturing them

From Raw Story:

According to human rights lawyer John Sifton, the CIA tortured some of its detainees in the War on Terror so severely that it had to take measures to keep them alive so they could continue being tortured.

Sifton, who the executive director of One World Research, told an interviewer for Russia Today that there was both a CIA detention program and a military detention program and that “The CIA program was by far the most secretive. … That’s the one that only had a few dozen detainees at any given time — but it’s the one that saw the biggest abuses, the most serious forms of torture.”

“In the military, there was actually a larger number of deaths than with the CIA,” Sifton continued. “The CIA engaged in some horrendous abuses, but they appear to have taken precautions to have actually prevented people from dying — which might sound humanitarian, but in fact was kind of sickening.”

“The military wasn’t so careful,” Sifton added. “The military subjected a lot of people to the same techniques, but without the precautions, and as a result a large number of detainees in military custody died. … While they didn’t use the worst forms of torture, like waterboarding, they often used sleep deprivation, forced standing, stress positions. … When you combine these techniques … they cause excruciating pain … and the military used them on thousands and thousands of detainees.”

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Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on CIA Payroll

From Cryptogon:

Via: New York Times:

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

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Castro sister recounts role as CIA spy in Cuba

From Reuters:

* Juanita Castro says Brazilian friend recruited her

* Code named Donna, says helped foes of Fidel Castro flee

* She says Fidel “betrayed” Cuba revolution with communism

(Updates with Juanita Castro saying she accepted no payment from the CIA for her collaboration)

By Pascal Fletcher

MIAMI, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Using the code name Donna, the younger sister of Fidel and Raul Castro worked undercover for the CIA in Cuba in the early 1960s, helping opponents of their communist rule escape execution and imprisonment, she said in memoirs published in exile on Monday.

Revealing what the publishers called a closely guarded secret kept hidden for four decades, Juanita Castro described in the book how she was recruited by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Havana two years after the 1959 Revolution led by her brothers, which she initially supported.

There was no immediate reaction to her revelation from the U.S. authorities or the Cuban government, which routinely dismisses critics as mercenaries in the pay of Washington.

Juanita Castro, 76, broke publicly with the Cuban government led by her brother Fidel Castro in 1964 after leaving Cuba for Mexico. She went into exile in Miami and has remained a firm critic of communist rule in Cuba.

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Judge rules FBI can’t keep Cheney interview buried

From Raw Story:

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that the FBI must release its June 2004 interview with then-Vice President Dick Cheney concerning the leaking of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The Bush and Obama administrations have both sought to keep the interview secret, but Judge Emmet Sullivan has determined (pdf) that there is no reason for it to remain sealed now that the Plame investigation has concluded:

“The Court concludes that the agency has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the requested documents were properly withheld in their entirety under any FOIA exemption protecting law enforcement interests. Limited portions of those documents, however, were properly withheld under exemptions designed to protect information that is privileged or that could impinge on personal privacy or threaten national security.”

CREW’s executive director issued a statement expressing satisfaction that “Judge Sullivan rightly rejected a Justice Department interpretation of the FOIA that would have allowed the government to withhold virtually any law enforcement record even where an investigation has long since been concluded. We are disappointed, however, that the judge allowed DOJ to withhold portions of some records because the American people deserve to know the truth about the role the vice president played in exposing Mrs. Wilson’s covert identity. High-level government officials should not be permitted to hide their misconduct from public view.”

Justice Department attorneys told Judge Sullivan last summer that they intend to appeal any order to release the documents.

Rep. Henry Waxman first issued a subpoena for the FBI interviews with Cheney and others in June 2008, citing both testimony by Lewis “Scooter” Libby and a book by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan as suggesting that Cheney might have been involved in the outing.

When the Justice Department refused on grounds of executive privilege, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Freedom of Information request, followed in August 2008 by a lawsuit.

In arguing against the lawsuit, the Obama administration has suggested that future presidents and vice presidents might refuse to cooperate with criminal investigations if they knew their statements might become public.

“If we become a fact-finder for political enemies, they aren’t going to cooperate,” a Justice Department attorney told the court last spring. “I don’t want a future vice president to say, `I’m not going to cooperate with you because I don’t want to be fodder for ‘The Daily Show.'”

How Team of Geeks Cracked Spy Trade

From The Wall Street Journal:


PALO ALTO, Calif. — From a Silicon Valley office strewn with bean-bag chairs, a group of twenty-something software engineers is building an unlikely following of terrorist hunters at U.S. spy agencies.

One of the latest entrants into the government spy-services marketplace, Palantir Technologies has designed what many intelligence analysts say is the most effective tool to date to investigate terrorist networks. The software’s main advance is a user-friendly search tool that can scan multiple data sources at once, something previous search tools couldn’t do. That means an analyst who is following a tip about a planned terror attack, for example, can more quickly and easily unearth connections among suspects, money transfers, phone calls and previous attacks around the globe.

Palantir’s software has helped root out terrorist financing networks, revealed new trends in roadside bomb attacks, and uncovered details of Syrian suicide bombing networks in Iraq, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the events. It has also foiled a Pakistani suicide bombing plot on Western targets and discovered a spy infiltration of an allied government. It is now being used by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Yet Palantir — which takes its name from the “seeing stones” in the “Lord of the Rings” series — remains an outlier among government security contractors. It rejected advice to hire retired generals to curry favor with the agencies and hired young government analysts frustrated by working with slow-footed technology. The company’s founders knew little about intelligence gathering when they started out. Instead, they went on a fact-finding mission, working with analysts to build the product from scratch.

“We were very naive. We just thought this was a cool idea,” says Palantir’s 41-year-old chief executive Alexander Karp, whose usual dress is a track-suit jacket, blue jeans, and red leather sneakers. “I underestimated how difficult it would be.”

Technology like Palantir’s is increasingly important to spies confronting an information explosion, where terrorists can hide communications in vast data streams on the Internet. Intelligence agencies are struggling to identify and monitor such information — and quickly send relevant data to the analysts who need it. U.S. officials say the software is also crucial as the country steps up its offensive in difficult theaters like Afghanistan. There, Palantir’s software is now being used to analyze constantly shifting tribal dynamics and distinguish potential allies from enemies, according to current and former counterterrorism officials familiar with the work.

“It’s a new way of war fighting,” says former Assistant Secretary of Defense Mary Beth Long. While there are many good systems, Ms. Long says, with Palantir’s software “you can actually point to examples where it was pretty clear that lives were saved.”

Palantir’s chief rivals are I2 Inc., a 20-year-old software company with offices in McLean, Va., and a handful of defense contractors who have been building software for intelligence agencies for years. I2’s general manager, Todd Drake, dismisses his upstart competitor as “the new sexy thing,” saying that Palantir won’t be able to make lasting inroads in a government market that prizes the stability of established companies. Palantir CEO Mr. Karp says such criticism doesn’t trouble him. He says the company is already expanding rapidly.

Palantir’s roots date back to 2000, when Mr. Karp returned to the U.S. after living for years in Frankfurt, where he earned his doctorate in German social philosophy and discovered a talent for investing. He reconnected with a buddy from Stanford Law School, Peter Thiel, the billionaire founder of online payment company PayPal.

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