The Syrian government’s former spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, is co-operating with US intelligence officials who helped him flee to Washington almost one month ago, the Guardian understands.
Makdissi became one of the most prominent regime defectors in late November when he left Beirut after first crossing from Syria. The Guardian reported at the time that he had fled for the US, possibly in return for asylum. This has now been confirmed.
The latest development comes after almost a month of debriefings, which have helped intelligence officials build a picture of decision-making in the inner sanctum of the embattled regime.
Syrian officials have denied that Makdissi has defected, saying he had instead taken three months of administrative leave. However, at the time of his departure, Hezbollah’s television network in Beirut - not known to be out of step with the regime line - announced that the spokesman’s views had strayed from official positions and that he had been fired.
The state department did not respond immediately to requests for comment, and the CIA was unwilling to discuss the story.
Makdissi is the most senior member of the regime to defect since Syria’s prime minister, Riyad Hijab, fled with his family to Jordan in August. While not a member of the inner sanctum, Makdissi was central to shaping the regime’s message and privy to many of its most sensitive communications.
Anxiety is increasing about the prospect of a desperate Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his rapidly proliferating enemies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Assad that such chemical weapons use would cross a U.S. red line: “I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action.”
This new level of anxiety was prompted by reports that Assad’s forces have been moving chemical weapons, according to David Sanger and Eric Schmitt in The Times. They report that one American official told them that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” though the official “declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.”
The U.S. is not the only country worried about the possible use of chemical weapons. Intelligence officials in two countries told me recently that the Israeli government has twice come to the Jordanian government with a plan to take out many of Syria’s chemical weapons sites. According to these two officials, Israel has been seeking Jordan’s “permission” to bomb these sites, but the Jordanians have so far declined to grant such permission.
The F.B.I. investigation that led to the resignation of David H. Petraeus as C.I.A. director on Friday began with a complaint several months ago about “harassing” e-mails sent by Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s biographer, to an unidentified third person, a government official briefed on the case said on Saturday.
When F.B.I. agents following up on the complaint began to examine Ms. Broadwell’s e-mails, they discovered exchanges between her and Mr. Petraeus that revealed that they were having an affair, said the official, who spoke of the investigation on the condition of anonymity.
The person who complained about harassing messages from Ms. Broadwell, according to the official, was not a family member or a government official. One Congressional official who was briefed on the matter on Friday said senior intelligence officials had explained that the F.B.I. investigation “started with two women.”
“It didn’t start with Petraeus, but in the course of the investigation they stumbled across him,” said the Congressional official, who said the intelligence officials had provided no other information about the two women or the focus of the inquiry. “We were stunned.”
Mr. Petraeus said in a statement that he was resigning after 14 months as head of the Central Intelligence Agency because he had shown “extremely poor judgment” in engaging in the affair.
The government official dismissed a range of media speculation that the F.B.I. inquiry might have focused on leaks of classified information to the press or even foreign spying. “People think that because it’s the C.I.A. director, it must involve bigger issues,” the official said. “Think of a small circle of people who know each other.”
The CIA rushed security operatives to an American diplomatic compound in Libya within 25 minutes of its coming under attack and played a more central role in the effort to fend off a night-long siege than has been acknowledged publicly, U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday.
The agency mobilized the evacuation effort, took control of an unarmed U.S. military drone to map possible escape routes, dispatched an emergency security team from Tripoli, the capital, and chartered aircraft that ultimately carried surviving American personnel to safety, U.S. officials said.
The account provided by senior U.S. intelligence officials offers the most detailed chronology yet of the Sept. 11 assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. The attack has become a flash point in the U.S. presidential campaign.
The decision to give a comprehensive account of the attack five days before the election is likely to be regarded with suspicion, particularly among Republicans who have accused the Obama administration of misleading the public by initially describing the assault as a spontaneous eruption that began as a protest of an anti-Islamic video.
U.S. officials said they decided to offer a detailed account of the CIA’s role to rebut media reports that have suggested that agency leaders delayed sending help to State Department officials seeking to fend off a heavily armed mob.
Instead, U.S. intelligence officials insisted that CIA operatives in Benghazi and Tripoli made decisions rapidly throughout the assault with no interference from Washington.
One former Navy SEAL featured in the film demands dramatically, “Tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy.”
Is there any merit to these serious accusations?
In fact, Obama and his national security team made every effort — successfully — to keep the intelligence about bin Laden a closely held secret for almost a year, from the time they first identified what they believed might be the al Qaeda leader’s hideout in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, in August 2010 until May 1, 2011, when the raid was launched to kill him.
The raid itself was conducted as a covert operation under the overall direction of then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.
I have written a book about the hunt for bin Laden during the course of which I was the only journalist granted access by the Pakistanis inside the compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was killed. I also spoke on the record about the hunt for bin Laden with a variety of current White House, Pentagon and intelligence officials, as well as former Defense Department and CIA officials familiar with aspects of the story.
None of them divulged classified information about the bin Laden operation. Indeed, they went to great pains to avoid doing so.
What precipitated the operation going public was not Obama’s announcement of the raid but the crash of one of the Black Hawk choppers used in the raid, which turned what had hitherto been a covert operation into a very public event.
Pakistani journalists started arriving at bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound soon after the helicopter crashed and started filing stories about the mysterious helicopter and its oddly shaped tail rotor. An Abbottabad resident even tweeted about the unusual sound of helicopters flying over the city in the middle of the night.
It wasn’t much of a leap for reporters to ascertain that these helicopters had particular features that had prevented them from being detected by Pakistani radar.
Soon after the SEALs had raided the Abbottabad command, Pakistani officials on the ground were interrogating bin Laden’s wives and children at the compound who told them that bin Laden had just been killed. None of this was going to stay secret for long.
Pakistan has evidence that al-Qaida’s second in command was in a house hit by a U.S. drone strike in the country’s northwest tribal region, but it is unclear whether he was killed, intelligence officials said Tuesday.
U.S. officials have said they were targeting Abu Yahya al-Libi in Monday’s strike in Khassu Khel village in the North Waziristan tribal area and were “optimistic” he was among those killed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the drone program.
Militants and residents in the area told Pakistani agents that al-Libi was in the house when it was hit, said intelligence officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
A year ago today, Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, a capstone event in the decade-long war on terrorism. Bin Laden’s death, coupled with other setbacks for the terrorist movement he led, has allowed U.S. officials to muse openly about the ultimate defeat of al-Qaida. There’s just one problem: U.S. counterterrorism officials do not know how they would know if the terrorist movement is actually destroyed.But as much as U.S. officials might look ahead to a world without al-Qaida, they might not know when they’re staring it in the face. On a conference call with reporters on Friday, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official who would not speak for the record conceded that envisioning an actual, definitive end to al-Qaida “isn’t a science, where we have a yardstick that says ‘we’re halfway toward strategic defeat, we’re 60 percent of the way.’”
There is an argument to be made that the U.S. has already defeated al-Qaida. The core organization is under such pressure from the drone war in tribal Pakistan that it has outsourced attacking the U.S. to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — which failed in two attempts at striking the U.S. in 2009 and 2010. Even if either attempt had succeeded, neither would have come close to killing the 3000 Americans that al-Qaida murdered on 9/11. What’s more, according to U.S. intelligence officials, the major al-Qaida offshoots in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and the African Sahel are currently focused on attacking local targets, not the faraway United States.
“Some could argue the organization that brought us 9/11 is essentially gone,” the senior counterterrorism official added. Even the Somali-Americans who have alarmingly traveled to Somalia seemingly to join the Qaida-affiliated Shebab organization have more often than not done so out of “Somali nationalism,” said the official, rather than sympathy for al-Qaida’s ideology.
The “extremely dangerous” conflict in Syria could have global repercussions, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday, as fresh violence erupted and an al-Qaida-inspired group claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Damascus.
The uprising that began a year ago has transformed into an armed insurgency that many fear is pushing the country toward civil war. Because of Syria’s close alliances with Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, there are deep concerns that the violence could spread beyond the country’s borders, especially if other nations arm the rebels or send in their own troops.
“We do not know how events will unfold,” Ban said during a speech in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. “But we do know that we all have a responsibility to work for a resolution of this profound and extremely dangerous crisis … that has potentially massive repercussions for the region and the world.”
His comments came as the previously divided U.N. Security Council united to approve a nonbinding statement calling on the Syrian government and opposition to immediately implement proposals by international envoy Kofi Annan to end the bloodshed.
Syrian activists reported shelling by government in forces in hotspots including the central province of Homs, and fighting between army defectors and soldiers in Damascus suburbs.
Large-scale bombings near government security buildings in the capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo have added a new and increasingly deadly element to the revolt.
U.S. intelligence officials have pointed to al-Qaida in Iraq as the likely culprit, raising the possibility its fighters are infiltrating across the border to take advantage of the turmoil.
In a statement posted Wednesday on a militant website, an Islamist group called the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings in Damascus on Saturday. The blasts, which targeted the air force intelligence building and the criminal security department, killed at least 27 people, the state-run news agency said.
“It’s looking more and more like Al-Nusra is just a front for AQI in Syria,” a U.S. official said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of Wednesday’s Al-Nusra statement, which said the attacks were in retaliation for the Syrian regime’s shelling of residential areas in opposition strongholds in Homs, Idlib, Hama and Daraa.
Explosive CIA Memos: Mossad agents posed as CIA spies to recruit members of a terrorist group to fight covert war against Iran
Buried deep in the archives of America’s intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush’s administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives — what is commonly referred to as a “false flag” operation.
The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah — a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according tothe U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.
But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel’s Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel’s recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel’s ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.
The officials did not know whether the Israeli program to recruit and use Jundallah is ongoing. Nevertheless, they were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad’s efforts.
“It’s amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with,” the intelligence officer said. “Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn’t give a damn what we thought.”
Interviews with six currently serving or recently retired intelligence officers over the last 18 months have helped to fill in the blanks of the Israeli false-flag operation. In addition to the two currently serving U.S. intelligence officers, the existence of the Israeli false-flag operation was confirmed to me by four retired intelligence officers who have served in the CIA or have monitored Israeli intelligence operations from senior positions inside the U.S. government.
The CIA and the White House were both asked for comment on this story. By the time this story went to press, they had not responded. The Israeli intelligence services — the Mossad — were also contacted, in writing and by telephone, but failed to respond. As a policy, Israel does not confirm or deny its involvement in intelligence operations.
Are telecommuniations deals with China good business — or a trojan horse for espionage? Some of Congress’ top intelligence officials are worried it’s the latter. And they’re launching an investigation to find out.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, announced on Thursday that their committee will look into the potential for Chinese telecommunications equipment — like commercial servers, routers and switches — to help China spy on the United States.
“The investigation is to determine the extent to which these companies provide the Chinese government an opportunity for greater foreign espionage, threaten our critical infrastructure, and further the opportunity for Chinese economic espionage,” Rogers tells Danger Room. “Through this investigation we will come to a better understanding of the threat so we are better prepared to mitigate.”