Entries Tagged "CIA"

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Bad CIA Operational Security

I have no idea if this story about CIA spies in Lebanon is true, and it will almost certainly never be confirmed or denied:

But others inside the American intelligence community say sloppy “tradecraft” — the method of covert operations — by the CIA is also to blame for the disruption of the vital spy networks.

In Beirut, two Hezbollah double agents pretended to go to work for the CIA. Hezbollah then learned of the restaurant where multiple CIA officers were meeting with several agents, according to the four current and former officials briefed on the case. The CIA used the codeword “PIZZA” when discussing where to meet with the agents, according to U.S. officials. Two former officials describe the location as a Beirut Pizza Hut. A current US official denied that CIA officers met their agents at Pizza Hut.

Posted on November 30, 2011 at 6:57 AMView Comments

How did the CIA and FBI Know that Australian Government Computers were Hacked?

Newspapers are reporting that, for about a month, hackers had access to computers “of at least 10 federal ministers including the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister.”

That’s not much of a surprise. What is odd is the statement that “Australian intelligence agencies were tipped off to the cyber-spy raid by US intelligence officials within the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

How did the CIA and the FBI know? Did they see some intelligence traffic and assume that those computers were where the stolen e-mails were coming from? Or something else?

Posted on April 12, 2011 at 6:03 AMView Comments

The CIA and Assassinations

The former CIA general counsel, John A. Rizzo, talks about his agency’s assassination program, which has increased dramatically under the Obama administration:

The hub of activity for the targeted killings is the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where lawyers — there are roughly 10 of them, says Rizzo — write a cable asserting that an individual poses a grave threat to the United States. The CIA cables are legalistic and carefully argued, often running up to five pages. Michael Scheuer, who used to be in charge of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, describes “a dossier,” or a “two-page document,” along with “an appendix with supporting information, if anybody wanted to read all of it.” The dossier, he says, “would go to the lawyers, and they would decide. They were very picky.” Sometimes, Scheuer says, the hurdles may have been too high. “Very often this caused a missed opportunity. The whole idea that people got shot because someone has a hunch­I only wish that was true. If it were, there would be a lot more bad guys dead.”

Sometimes, as Rizzo recalls, the evidence against an individual would be thin, and high-level lawyers would tell their subordinates, “You guys did not make a case.” “Sometimes the justification would be that the person was thought to be at a meeting,” Rizzo explains. “It was too squishy.” The memo would get kicked back downstairs.

The cables that were “ready for prime time,” as Rizzo puts it, concluded with the following words: “Therefore we request approval for targeting for lethal operation.” There was a space provided for the signature of the general counsel, along with the word “concurred.” Rizzo says he saw about one cable each month, and at any given time there were roughly 30 individuals who were targeted. Many of them ended up dead, but not all: “No. 1 and No. 2 on the hit parade are still out there,” Rizzo says, referring to “you-know-who and [Ayman al-] Zawahiri,” a top Qaeda leader.

And the ACLU Deputy Legal Director on the interview:

What was most remarkable about the interview, though, was not what Rizzo said but that it was Rizzo who said it. For more than six years until his retirement in December 2009, Rizzo was the CIA’s acting general counsel — the agency’s chief lawyer. On his watch the CIA had sought to quash a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by arguing that national security would be harmed irreparably if the CIA were to acknowledge any detail about the targeted killing program, even the program’s mere existence.

Rizzo’s disclosure was long overdue — the American public surely has a right to know that the assassination of terrorism suspects is now official government policy ­ and reflects an opportunistic approach to allegedly sensitive information that has become the norm for senior government officials. Routinely, officials insist to courts that the nation’s security will be compromised if certain facts are revealed but then supply those same facts to trusted reporters.

Posted on April 11, 2011 at 6:33 AMView Comments

Predator Software Pirated?

This isn’t good:

Intelligent Integration Systems (IISi), a small Boston-based software development firm, alleges that their Geospatial Toolkit and Extended SQL Toolkit were pirated by Massachusetts-based Netezza for use by a government client. Subsequent evidence and court proceedings revealed that the “government client” seeking assistance with Predator drones was none other than the Central Intelligence Agency.

IISi is seeking an injunction that would halt the use of their two toolkits by Netezza for three years. Most importantly, IISi alleges in court papers that Netezza used a “hack” version of their software with incomplete targeting functionality in response to rushed CIA deadlines. As a result, Predator drones could be missing their targets by as much as 40 feet.

The obvious joke is that this is what you get when you go with the low bidder, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And there’s nothing special about this being a government procurement; any bespoke IT procurement needs good contractual oversight.

EDITED TO ADD (11/10): Another article.

Posted on October 20, 2010 at 7:21 AMView Comments

How to Spot a CIA Officer

How to spot a CIA officer, at least in the mid-1970s.

The reason the CIA office was located in the embassy — as it is in most of the other countries in the world — is that by presidential order the State Department is responsible for hiding and housing the CIA. Like the intelligence services of most other countries, the CIA has been unwilling to set up foreign offices under its own name. So American embassies — and, less frequently. military bases — provide the needed cover. State confers respectability on the Agency’s operatives, dressing them up with the same titles and calling cards that give legitimate diplomats entree into foreign government circles. Protected by diplomatic immunity, the operatives recruit local officials as CIA agents to supply secret intelligence and, especially in the Third World, to help in the Agency’s manipulation of a country’s internal affairs.

Posted on June 7, 2010 at 5:43 AMView Comments

Even More on the al-Mabhouh Assassination

This, from a former CIA chief of station:

The point is that in this day and time, with ubiquitous surveillance cameras, the ability to comprehensively analyse patterns of cell phone and credit card use, computerised records of travel documents which can be shared in the blink of an eye, the growing use of biometrics and machine-readable passports, and the ability of governments to share vast amounts of travel and security-related information almost instantaneously, it is virtually impossible for clandestine operatives not to leave behind a vast electronic trail which, if and when there is reason to examine it in detail, will amount to a huge body of evidence.

A not-terribly flattering article about Mossad:

It would be surprising if a key part of this extraordinary story did not turn out to be the role played by Palestinians. It is still Mossad practice to recruit double agents, just as it was with the PLO back in the 1970s. News of the arrest in Damascus of another senior Hamas operative ­ though denied by Mash’al ­ seems to point in this direction. Two other Palestinians extradited from Jordan to Dubai are members of the Hamas armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, suggesting treachery may indeed have been involved. Previous assassinations have involved a Palestinian agent identifying the target.

There’s no proof, of course, that Mossad was behind this operation. But the author is certainly right that the Palestinians believe that Mossad was behind it.

The Cold Spy lists what he sees as the mistakes made:

1. Using passport names of real people not connected with the operation.

2. Airport arrival without disguises in play thus showing your real faces.

3. Not anticipating the wide use of surveillance cameras in Dubai.

4. Checking into several hotels prior to checking in at the target hotel thus bringing suspicion on your entire operation.

5. Checking into the same hotel that the last person on the team checked into in order to change disguises.

6. Not anticipating the reaction that the local police had upon discovery of the crime, and their subsequent use of surveillance cameras in showing your entire operation to the world in order to send you a message that such actions or activities will not be tolerated on their soil.

7. Not anticipating the use of surveillance camera footage being posted on YouTube, thus showing everything about your operation right down to your faces and use of disguises to the masses around the world.

8. Using 11 people for a job that one person could have done without all the negative attention to the operation. For example, it could have been as simple as a robbery on the street with a subsequent shooting to cover it all up for what it really was.

9. Using too much sophistication in the operation showing it to be a high level intelligence/hit operation, as opposed to a simple matter using one person to carry out the assignment who was either used as a cutout or an expendable person which was then eliminated after the job was completed, thus covering all your tracks without one shred of evidence leading back to the original order for the hit.

10. Arriving too close to the date or time of the hit. Had the team arrived a few weeks earlier they could have established a presence in the city ­ thus seeing all the problems associated with carrying out said assignment ­ thus calling it off or having a counter plan whereby something else could have been tried elsewhere or in another country.

11. And to take everything to 11 points, not even noticing (which many on your team did in fact notice) all the surveillance you were under, and not calling the entire thing off because of it, and because you failed to see all of your mistakes made so far and then not calling it off because of them.

I disagree with a bunch of those.

My previous two blog posts on the topic.

EDITED TO ADD (3/22): The Israeli public believes Mossad was behind the assassination, too.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): The Cold Spy responds in comments. Actually, there’s lots of interesting discussion in the comments.

Posted on March 22, 2010 at 9:10 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.