Posts Tagged ‘Intelligence’

The top-secret ‘Q Group’ has been chasing Edward Snowden since he disappeared in May. Eli Lake on the intel community’s internal police—and why the agency is in ‘complete freakout mode.’

Even before last week’s revelations by The Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting call records from telecommunications companies and had the ability to mine user data from major U.S. Internet companies, the NSA was already on the trail of the leaker, according to two former U.S. intelligence officers with close ties to the agency.

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Edward Snowden’s (inset) disappearance in May was immediately noticed by the NSA. (Patrick Semansky/AP; inset: Getty)

On Sunday, The Guardian revealed its sourcea 29-year-old former U.S. Army soldier and CIA employee named Edward Snowden. Snowden—who worked as a contract employee at an NSA station in Hawaii—said he agreed to have his identity revealed because he feared that the NSA would put pressure on his family and his friends for information about his whereabouts. From a hotel in Hong Kong, he toldThe Guardian he expected he would never be allowed to return home and that he could end up imprisoned or murdered because of his decision to leak.

The people who began chasing Snowden work for the Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence, according to former U.S. intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The directorate, sometimes known as “the Q Group,” is continuing to track Snowden now that he’s outed himself as The Guardian’s source, according to the intelligence officers. Snowden began final preparations for his departure three weeks ago, The Guardian reports, copying the final documents he intended to share, telling his supervisor that he would need time off for medical treatment, and his girlfriend simply that he would be away. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world,” he told the paper in his interview from Hong Kong.

The security and counterintelligence directorate serves as the NSA’s internal police force, in effect watching the agency’s watchers for behavior that could pose an intelligence risk. It has the authority to interview an NSA contractor or employee’s known associates, and even to activate a digital dragnet capable of finding out where a target travels, what the target has purchased, and the target’s online activity.

“We have seen the latest report from The Guardian that identifies an individual claiming to have disclosed information about highly classified intelligence programs in recent days,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesperson Shawn Turner said in a statement issued Sunday. “The Intelligence Community is currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures. Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.”

The directorate serves as the NSA’s internal police force, in effect watching the agency’s watchers.

“It informs our adversaries. It puts American companies at risk internationally for simply complying with our laws,” said Mike Hayden, a former director of the NSA and a former director of the CIA. “It teaches practically everyone in the world—sources, liaison services—that America can’t keep secrets.”

The impact of the leak inside the NSA has been enormous. “There is complete freakout mode at the agency right now,” one former intelligence officer tells The Daily Beast. “There has never been anything like this in terms of the speed of referral of a crime report to the Justice Department. Normally this kind of thing takes weeks and weeks.”

Snowden’s disappearance in May was immediately noticed by the directorate, and when The Guardian published the first court order and then documents associated with a program called PRISM, Snowden immediately became the leading suspect in the leak, the intelligence sources said, adding that the FBI was now investigating the leak as well.

In Congress, some members have already called for the United States to pursue Snowden’s extradition and prosecute him for his unauthorized disclosures. “If Edward Snowden did in fact leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date,” Rep. Peter King, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence & Terrorism, said in a statement Sunday.

Hayden dismissed the criticism that terrorists already knew the NSA was collecting vast amounts of telephone metadata before Snowden’s leak.

“Let me get this right: I got a religious fanatic in the cave in the Hindu Kush, yet this is a front-page, above-the-fold story and he already knew this?” he asked rhetorically. “That does not make sense. It will teach guys to be far more cautious in the future.”

The former U.S. intelligence officers, however, said the case is already being treated as a potential defection. “I think it is really tragic that an American has to move to a place that has a reputation for less freedom,” Snowden told The Guardian. “Still, Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People’s Republic of China. It has a strong tradition of free speech.”

The former U.S. intelligence officers, though, compared Snowden with William Hamilton Martin and Bernon F. Mitchell, two NSA cryptologists who defected to the Soviet Union on June 25, 1960. Both held a press conference at the time where they disclosed U.S. spying programs from Moscow. An NSA assessment of that defection a few years later called it the worst intelligence breach in the history of the NSA—a mark that may have just been passed.

Press officers for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA declined to comment for this story.

May 9th, 2013

While combat troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, and the Afghan war now involves less US troops all the time, the US is still involved in either fighting or helping some struggle thought to be useful in the “war on terror” in numerous countries.

Altogether the US is involved in 74 different countries. The US Central Command is active in 20 countries in the Middle East busy ramping-up military training, counterterrorism programs and providing logistical support for local military allies.

The US military is the world’s largest landlord. Not only does it have long-established bases in Germany, Japan, South Korea and the UK but also has a significant presence in Bahrain, Djibouti, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Kosovo, and Kyrgyzstan. Some bases are large. The Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar, the forward base of the Central Command can accommodate up to 10,000 troops and 120 aircraft.

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) supports “military-to-military” relationships with 54 different African nations. The “war on terror” is used as a justification to project US power and develop relationships with numerous national military forces throughout the globe.

Going beyond these relationships in many cases, US Special Forces operate in numerous countries. Jeremy Scahill writes in “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield”: “By mid-2010, the Obama administration had increased the presence of Special Operations forces from sixty countries to seventy-five countries. SOCOM had about 4,000 people deployed around the world in countries besides Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Joint Special Operations Command, Special Forces, under Obama, have operated in Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan and the Philippines. Teams have also been at times operating in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. They also support US Drug Enforcement operations in Columbia and Mexico.

The Obama administration has embraced targeted assassinations and expanded drone attacks far beyond those of the Bush era. Most expanded operations involve small numbers of troops that may barely register in the media or the public mind. For example, in February, 100 US military personnel were deployed to Niger, to assist in intelligence collection to aid the French in their operations in neighboring Mali.Troops have also been sent to Jordan in small numbers but could be significantly expanded. A number of troops have also been sent to South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic in connection with attempts to apprehend Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Obama officials might argue that all of these operations are just a single conflict, the war on terror–although officially the term “war on terror” is no longer used. The president has the authority to order the operations through the Authorized Use for Military Force (AUMF) law passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks. In other situations the actions could be defended by classifying them as not combat roles at all since the US military operates as advisers who help the military operations of allied forces.

However, the reality is that the US is involved militarily throughout the globe directly in conflicts or in helping other forces that are often used as proxies to advance US interests. These new wars have much smaller footprints than earlier wars. While advancing the interests of the US and the military-industrial-complex, there is minimal political fallout due to the lack of casualties and of media attention to what is happening.