Wikileaks is a Front for Russian Intelligence

The part played by Wikileaks in the Edward Snowden saga is an important one. The pivotal role of Julian Assange and other leading members of Wikileaks in getting Snowden from Hawaii to Moscow, from NSA employment to FSB protection, in the late spring of 2013 is a matter of record.

For years there have been questions about just what Wikileaks actually is. I know because I’ve been among those asking. Over two years ago, little more than two weeks after Snowden landed in Moscow, I explained my concerns about Wikileaks based on my background in counterintelligence. Specifically, the role of the Russian anti-Semite weirdo Israel Shamir, a close friend of Assange, in the Wikileaks circle merited attention, and to anyone trained in the right clues, the Assange group gave the impression of having a relationship with Russian intelligence. As I summed up my position in July 2013, based on what we knew so far:

It’s especially important given the fact that Wikileaks is playing a leading role in the Snowden case, to the dismay of some of Ed’s admirers and even members of his family. Not to mention that Snowden, as of this writing, is still in Moscow. One need not be a counterintelligence guru to have serious questions about Shamir and Wikileaks here. It may be a much bigger part of the story than it appears to the naked eye.

Evidence that Wikileaks is not what it seems to be has mounted over the years. Assange’s RT show didn’t help matters, neither did the fact that, despite having claimed to possess secret Russian intelligence files, Wikileaks has never exposed anything sensitive, as they have done with the purloined files of many other countries. To say nothing of Assange & Co. taking unmistakably pro-Russian positions on a host of controversial issues. Questions logically followed.

Now answers are appearing. It’s long been known that Wikileaks, by their own admission, counseled Ed Snowden in June 2013 to leave Hong Kong and head to Moscow. Contrary to the countless lies propagated by Snowden Operation activists, Snowden’s arrival in Russia was his choice; it had nothing to do with  canceled passports in Washington, DC.

An important gap has been filled this week by Julian Assange, who admitted that Snowden going to Moscow was his idea. Ed wanted to head to Latin America, Julian asserted, especially Ecuador, whose London embassy Assange has been hiding out in for years on the lam from rape changes in Sweden. As Assange explained, “He preferred Latin America, but my advice was that he should take asylum in Russia despite the negative PR consequences, because my assessment is that he had a significant risk he could be kidnapped from Latin America on CIA orders. Kidnapped or possibly killed.”

Only in Russia would Ed be safe, Julian counseled, because there he would be protected by Vladimir Putin and his secret services, notably the FSB. One might think that seeking the shelter of the FSB — one of the world’s nastiest secret police forces that spies on millions without warrant and murders opponents freely — might be an odd choice for a “privacy organization.” But Wikileaks is no ordinary NGO.

Why Assange knew Russia would take in Snowden — it could be a big political hassle for Moscow — is a key question that any counterintelligence officer would want answered. Was Julian speaking on behalf of the FSB or did he just “know” Ed could obtain the sanctuary plus protection he sought?

Just as telling is the recent report on Assange’s activities in Ecuador’s London embassy, where it turns out Ecuadorian intelligence has been keeping tabs on him. Which is no surprise given the PR mess Assange has created for Ecuador with his on-going antics.

Especially interesting is the revelation that, while holed up in London, Assange “requested that he be able to chose his own Security Service inside the embassy, suggesting the use of Russian operatives.” It is, to say the least, surpassingly strange that a Western “privacy advocate” wants Russian secret police protection while hiding out in a Western country. The original Spanish is clear: Assange “habría sido la elección de su propio Servicio de Seguridad en el interior de la embajada, llegando a proponer la participación de operadores de nacionalidad rusa.”

Why Assange wants FSB bodyguards is a question every journalist who encounters Julian henceforth should ask. Until he explains that, Wikileaks should be treated as the front and cut-out for Russian intelligence that it has become, while those who get in bed with Wikileaks — many Western “privacy advocates” are in that group — should be asked their feelings about their own at least indirect ties with Putin’s spy services.

P.S. For those familiar with espionage history, there is a clear precedent for such an arrangement. In 1978 the magazine Covert Action Information Bulletin appeared to expose the secrets of US and Western intelligence. Its editor was Phil Agee, a former CIA officer who had gotten into bed with Cuban and Soviet intelligence; think of Agee as the Snowden of the pre-Internet era. CAIB was in fact founded on the direction of the KGB and for years served as a conduit for Kremlin lies and disinformation that seriously harmed Western intelligence. While CAIB presented itself as a radical truth-telling group, in actuality it was a KGB front, though few CAIB staffers beyond Agee knew who was really calling the shots. One suspects much the same is happening with Wikileaks.

Russia’s “Secret” Army in Ukraine

Today the office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko released via Twitter important details about the organization and structure of Russia’s occupying army in Southeastern Ukraine. The order of battle (ORBAT) information is clearly derived from a lot of intelligence, especially SIGINT (I say this as someone who used to do ORBAT intelligence for a living: this is well done).

Since most of my readers know neither Russian or Ukrainian, I’m passing on what Kyiv has released today in English. The translation isn’t great but it works. I’m providing comments below since most normals are not well acquainted with the nuances of Russian military organization.

Russian Military Command, South-East Ukraine (Novocherkask):

Commanding Officer (CO): GenCol A N. Serdyukov [1]

1st Army Corps (“Donetsk People’s Republic” Military), HQ: Donetsk

CO: GenMaj A.V. Zavizyon [2]

2nd Army Corps (“Luhansk People’s Republic” Military), HQ: Luhansk
CO: GenMaj Y. V. Nikiforov [3]
The organization of the 1st and 2nd Corps, no surprise, corresponds exactly to the standard tables of organization and equipment (TO&E) of Russian Ground Forces. There are several maneuver brigades (“motor rifle” is the Russian term for mechanized in NATO parlance) supported by independent regiments and battalions. As Kyiv has announced, the 35,000 troops belonging to “DNR” and “LNR” forces are bolstered by 9,000 reservists. While some forty percent of the troops are locals, the rest are Russians plus a few mercenaries and foreign volunteers.

The senior command staff are exclusively Russian officers assigned to the 1st and 2nd Corps — officially they are “not there” of course — while the operation is run, logistically and command-wise, from neighboring Russia.
To anybody with a decent memory, this closely resembles the relationship during the 1992-95 Bosnian War, when the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS), while consisting largely of local rank-and-file troops, had most of its command, and nearly all of its financing and logistics, coming from neighboring Serbia and its military — which, in practice treated the VRS as merely as an extension of itself, as in fact it was.

Needless to add, the “DNR” and “LNR” militaries would not last twenty-four hours without constant command and logistical support from Putin’s military. They are an extension of Russian Ground Forces and should be treated as such by the West. It’s time to end, once and for all, any fiction about “rebels” — these are Russian-controlled forces, led by Russian officers, supplied with Russian guns and ammunition, that are waging war inside Ukraine.
Kudos to Kyiv for putting this important information out there as an aid to understanding what’s really going on in their country.


Comments:

1. AKA Sedov; GenCol is a Russian “three-star” rank.

2. AKA Pilen; GenMaj is a Russian “one-star” rank.

3. AKA Morgun; GenMaj is a Russian “one-star” rank.

Hillary’s Emailgate: Understanding Security Classification

The rising scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton regarding her apparent misuse of unclassified email during her tenure as Secretary of State gets worse for the Presidential hopeful with each passing day. During the week now ending, I’ve explained in writing and in radio and TV appearances how Americans ought to look at this touchy matter.

Few Americans have ever dealt with Top Secret materials and understandably they are left perplexed by this complicated and mysterious subject. This is not helped by the fact that Clinton backers seek to blow off this scandal as “no big deal.” Obfuscation does not change the fact that the placing of highly classified information on an unclassified and unencrypted network is a very serious matter indeed, not to mention very likely a criminal act to boot.

To aid understanding of how security classification works in the real world of the Intelligence Community, I’m giving you a sample intelligence assessment which I will walk you through to illustrate how this plays out every day in Washington, DC.

Everything I’m presenting you is fake — Zendia for decades was used by the National Security Agency as its preferred made-up country in training exercises — but corresponds exactly to how the IC actually writes “finished” intelligence assessments based on multiple information sources, then classifies them.

Such assessments are authored every day by multiple American intelligence agencies and offices, then shared with senior leadership. The Secretary of State is always a top consumer of such intelligence. Moreover, the State Department has its own in-house intelligence analysis shop, termed the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to meet their department’s need for additional classified assessments and reporting.

What follows is a short intelligence assessment of the kind U.S. Government officials read every single day, made up by me but adhering to the style and substance of what I used to do at work when I was an IC analyst.

TOPSECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN

(S) Economic, Political Problems for Zendia Ahead

(TS//SI) The Zendian Ambassador to Dirtbagistan believes it is increasingly likely that his country will fail to make its next International Monetary Fund (IMF) payment, scheduled for mid-September. This IMF payment of 475 billion Zendian wangos ($8.4 billion) is beyond his government’s ability to pay, Ambassador Abu Travolta explained to a senior member of his country’s Ministry of Finance (believed to be Deputy Finance Minister Abu Nugent) on 12 August. The ambassador further opined that, in the event of this likely default, the government of Prime Minister Barack Dukakis would not last long, politically. For this reason the Zendian government is going to great lengths to prevent word of the impending IMF default from reaching the media, according to Ambassador Travolta.

(TS//SI//TK) This information was supported by Zendian Deputy Foreign Minister Abu Bon Jovi, who last week informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) that budget constraints, which he expected to get significantly worse in mid-September, meant that MFA payrolls may not be met upon “something big” happening then. This is believed to be a reference to a possible default on Zendia’s IMF loan.

(S//NF) According to U.S. Government information obtained from multiple agencies, Ambassador Travolta is a well-connected member of the ruling party and is close to Prime Minister Dukakis. He has a track record of accurate predictions about forthcoming events in his country.

(FOUO) According to media reports, Ambassador Travolta has been experiencing health problems (NFI) which may indicate his willingness to be unusually frank with fellow members of the Zendian ruling party.

(U) This situation will be updated as soon as additional information becomes available.

TOPSECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN

Off the bat, you’ll notice the report’s overall classification, TOPSECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN, in big and bold letters at the top and bottom, which reflects the highest classification levels of anything incorporated in the assessment. Only people cleared to that level — here a very high one — can read this report.

Like any report, this has a title slug reflecting what it’s about. It’s classified S for SECRET: notice that each paragraph has its classification stated in parentheses at the beginning. This is called “portion marking” by the IC.

The first paragraph is classified TOPSECRET, the highest “official” classification in the U.S. Government, while the addition of SI, meaning Special Intelligence, indicates this is very sensitive stuff. SI is a security caveat that falls under the rubric of Sensitive Compartmented Information or SCI. Not everybody cleared for TOPSECRET also has access to SCI, that’s a separate matter and all SCI materials require special handling to protect them from compromise.

Here, SI indicates that the paragraph is based on information from signals intelligence or SIGINT from NSA — in this case an intercepted phone call between two senior Zendian officials. Although the report never states that this is SIGINT, the kind of information provided plus the SI caveat indicate this is based on NSA reporting, as anybody experienced with intelligence would immediately recognize.

The following paragraph is also based on NSA SIGINT, albeit from a different, even more sensitive source: the TK in its classification stands for TALENT KEYHOLE and indicates that information is derived from foreign communications intercepted by an intelligence satellite. This, again, is a conversation between top Zendian officials, so it’s valuable “horse’s mouth” information. Here two senior bureaucrats seem to corroborate each other, which is an important revelation.

The third paragraph has a lower classification, SECRET, is not based on SIGINT, and has the NOFORN caveat, meaning it cannot be shared with non-Americans (a good deal of NSA SIGINT, even at the TS/SI level, is shared with close foreign partners such as the Anglosphere Five Eyes countries). This paragraph is based on local classified assessments — probably from the US Embassy to Zendia as well as the CIA Station there — that are sent back as regular reports to Washington, DC about the political lay of the land in that country.

The last substantive paragraph isn’t classified at all but has the For Official Use Only marking, meaning it cannot be released to the public without official approval. It’s based on media reports, which represent an important source of information for the IC and the State Department. CIA’s Open Source Center is the IC’s hub for translating foreign media in many languages and, pound for pound, represents the best value in the Intelligence Community, in my opinion. Here, unclassified media (termed Open Source Intelligence or OSINT) by some, is used to round out the assessment, and how the analyst has reached a tentative conclusion based on that media is considered to be FOUO. NFI means No Further Information.

The last line is entirely unclassified, as indicated by the U at the beginning, and states simply that more information will be forthcoming on this issue as the analyst gets it.

That last line is the only part of the assessment that is wholly unclassified and, in theory, could be released to the public without a cumbersome approval process: of course, taken alone it says nothing of interest, which perhaps is the point.

The larger point, however, is that, save that last line, absolutely none of the information in this assessment could be released to the public, or placed on any unclassified information system, by anybody, not even a cabinet secretary, without specific approval from outside agencies. The SIGINT, in particular, is highly sensitive and could only be placed in unclassified channels with an explicit NSA (and probably Director of National Intelligence) go-ahead, which is rare.

Even “talking around” such information, especially in written fashion, is unwise and usually represents a serious security breach, not to mention it may be illegal. For example, this is how a top official who read that Zendian intelligence assessment might proceed:

1. “We’re hearing Zendia will probably default on its IMF loan.” (Marginally acceptable because there’s no attribution, no sources and methods are mentioned, though even so it’s really at least FOUO if it’s a cabinet secretary putting it in an unclassified email.)

2. “We’re getting intel that Zendia will probably default on its IMF loan.” (Unacceptable, a security violation, but not classified higher than SECRET due to lack of source attribution.)

3. “NSA says Zendia will default on its IMF loan in September.” (Absolutely unacceptable in any unclassified format, a compromise of TS//SI sources and methods….call the FBI.)

What exactly happened in the case of Hillary Clinton’s classified emails we don’t know yet, but the FBI is now on the case, and I’m sure the Bureau will eventually find out. What happens after that? It’s too soon to tell ….

The Rosenbergs and Espionage Denial

More than six decades after they were executed for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg continue to inspire polemics. Their case had ample drama, embellished by the fact that the doomed couple were the only Americans executed for espionage by the United States during the Cold War. That they left behind two orphaned sons made the case poignant.

They were convicted during the Korean War, which took the lives of over 50,000 Americans who died to stem Soviet aggression, which provided an explanation why the government did not seek leniency, especially because the Rosenbergs had assisted the Soviet nuclear weapons program with their espionage. Moreover, it was obvious that Federal prosecutors wanted Ethel’s cooperation — Julius was the Soviets’ big fish and the government’s case against his wife was weaker than against him — but Ethel, a hardline Communist, rejected that, even when she could have saved her own life for her children’s sake.

Although the Rosenbergs had defenders who pleaded that they were innocent, or at least severely misunderstood, most of them fell silent when the National Security Agency twenty years ago declassified its VENONA project, a top secret code-breaking effort that revealed numerous 1940’s secrets of Soviet espionage against the United States. The unveiling of VENONA, one of the great triumphs of American intelligence, also revealed why Federal prosecutors were so confident in their prosecution of especially Julius Rosenberg. VENONA transcripts made clear that Julius, who appeared in the messages under the Soviet covernames LIBERAL and ANTENNA, wasn’t just a Stalinist true-believer but an important agent of the Soviet secret police who gave Moscow every American secret he could get his hands on.

For all but the most determined denialists, that Julius Rosenberg was a Soviet spy was proved conclusively by VENONA — the ace in the hole for the Feds that they possessed in 1953 but could not show to the jury at the Rosenbergs’ trial, because it was so highly classified. Julius was every bit the traitor that the government said he was, and he had betrayed nuclear secrets to Stalin.

Now the case is back in the news, with Michael and David Meeropol, the Rosenberg’s orphaned sons, appealing to President Obama in today’s New York Times to exonerate their mother who, they claim, was unfairly convicted of espionage. Specifically, they want the Obama administration to right what they see as the wrongs of so many decades ago.

“Our mother was not a spy,” the Meeropols flatly state, demanding that President Obama “acknowledge that Ethel Rosenberg was wrongly convicted and executed.” Their case for this is based on the recently released grand jury transcript of David Greenglass, who was the Meeropol’s uncle. Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, was himself a Soviet spy who served almost ten years in Federal prison for betraying atomic secrets to Moscow. One of the most sordid aspects of this sordid case is that Greenglass saved his own skin, and that of his wife, by fingering his own sister.

The newly released grand jury testimony leaves little doubt that Greenglass embellished matters over the decades and his story changed with time (he died last year); he was never an especially reliable witness. On the basis of this the Meeropols protest that their mother was innocent, and to “prove” that they highlight evidence from various sources in a slipshod manner. Although I understand that the Meeropols need to believe that their mother wasn’t a spy for Stalin, the facts to not bear that wish out.

VENONA made very clear what Ethel was up to. I’ve worked with VENONA materials for years, including intercepts never released to the public, and I thereby shut the door on denialism regarding Alger Hiss, another one of Stalin’s spies inside the U.S. government that many on the left simply refused to accept was a traitor, although his guilt was firmly established by VENONA.

Several VENONA messages reveal important facts about Ethel Rosenberg. Number 1657, sent from the KGB’s New York residency to the Center (i.e, HQ) in Moscow on 27 November 1944, is worth citing in detail (for the original see here):

To VIKTOR [i].

Your no. 5356 [a]. Information on LIBERAL’s [ii] wife [iii]. Surname that of her husband, first name ETHEL, 29 years old. Married five years. Finished secondary school. A FELLOWCOUNTRYMAN [ZEMLYaK] [iv] since 1938. Sufficiently well developed politically. Knows about her husband’s work and the role of METR [v] and NIL [vi]. In view of delicate health does not work. Is characterized positively and as a devoted person.

ANTON [xi]

Notes: [a] Not available

Comments:
[i] VIKTOR: Lt. Gen. P.M. Fitin  [head of KGB foreign intelligence].
[ii] LIBERAL: Julius ROSENBERG.
[iii] Ethel ROSENBERG, nee GREENGLASS.
[iv] ZEMLYaK: Member of the Communist Party.
[v] METR: Probably Joel BARR or Alfred SARANT.
[vi] NIL: Unidentified.
. . .
[xi] ANTON: Leonid Romanovich KVASNIKOV [KGB’s New York rezident].

This KGB report establishes that Ethel Rosenberg was a trusted person as far as the Kremlin was concerned, a Communist Party member who was witting of her husband’s secret work for Soviet intelligence, as well as the roles of other agents who were part of Julius’ spy network. Code-phrases such as being “devoted” and “well developed politically” reveal that Ethel was a committed Stalinist in whom the Soviet secret police placed trust.

That Ethel’s role in Soviet espionage went beyond sympathy was revealed in another KGB message from New York to Moscow, sent on 21 September 1944 (Number 1340, it can be seen in full here). This discusses the possible recruitment of a new American agent:

To VIKTOR [i]:

Lately the development of new people [D% has been in pro­gress]. LIBERAL [ii] recommended the wife of his wife’s brother, Ruth GREENGLASS, with a safe flat in view. She is 21 years old, a TOWNSWOMAN [GOROZhANKA] [iii], a GYMNAST [FIZKUL’TORNITsA] (iv) since 1942. She lives on STANTON ISTANTAUN] Street. LIBERAL and his wife recommend her as an intelligent and clever girl.

Comments:

[i] VIKTOR: Lt. Gen. P. M. FITIN.

[ii] LIBERAL: Julius ROSENBERG.

[iii] GOROZhANKA: .American citizen.

[iv] FIZKULITURNITsA: Probably a Member of the Young Communist League.

In other words, Ethel was a such a willing and witting member of the Soviet espionage apparat in mid-1940s America that she was setting up her own sister-in-law as a candidate for recruitment by the KGB. The observation that Ruth Greenglass had a “safe” flat indicates they had clandestine work in mind for her.

Moreover, it’s impossible to believe that Ethel could not have been aware what Julius was up to. As the head of his own KGB agent network for years, Julius was recruiting and running spies for the Soviets, several of them relatives and friends whom Ethel knew well. Additionally, Julius had spy equipment such as cameras provided by the KGB to facilitate his espionage (see VENONA message Number 1600, 14 November 1944, which discusses some of the clandestine tradecraft that Julius used). Ethel was a clever woman and it’s simply impossible to believe that she didn’t notice her husband moving and photographing literally thousands of pages of classified U.S. materials in their not overly large apartment.

Neither is VENONA our only inside source on Ethel’s role in the case. Aleksandr Feklisov, a legendary KGB officer who ran their operations in the United States in the 1940’s, had details to add as well. In the aftermath of the VENONA release, Feklisov stated the Rosenbergs weren’t all that important to Soviet espionage, describing their execution as a “contract murder” by the American government.

That, however, was not how Feklisov described the Rosenbergs in his memoir, published in English in 2001. Although Feklisov makes no effort at being dispassionate — he considers the Rosenbergs to be heroes and the book includes a picture of Feklisov kissing their tombstone (!) — he adds considerably more detail about the matter. Feklisov, who served as the Rosenbergs’ case officer, admitted to more than fifty meetings with Julius, whose betrayal of his own country Feklisov describes in glowing terms. (Here Feklisov’s original Russian-language memoir, published in 1994, is helpful.)

As for Ethel, Feklisov says that he never met her. This does not surprise, as Julius was already such a trusted agent-handler for the KGB that there was no need for Feklisov, who lived in the United States in constant fear of being caught by the FBI, to expose himself to additional danger by meeting with Ethel. Who needed to when you had Julius to handle that? Besides, VENONA messages make clear that Moscow trusted Ethel as well.

Additionally, Feklisov at one point refers to Ethel as a “probationer” (cтажёр in Russian). This word appears regularly in VENONA messages and was 1940’s KGB-speak for agents, that is foreigners who worked wittingly for Soviet intelligence. That closes any debate about how Feklisov viewed Ethel Rosenberg.

I understand the human impulse behind the Meeropols’ desire to have their long-dead mother exonerated. In addition to the pain of losing both parents at a young age, there’s the added horror that Ethel could have saved herself by cooperating — after all, if she wasn’t doing anything wrong, why not talk to the FBI? Especially when your execution is pending. The awful truth is that Ethel Rosenberg, a committed Communist, loved Stalin more than her own children.

Nobody who understands Soviet intelligence and has read the relevant VENONA messages with open eyes has any doubt that Ethel Rosenberg was an agent of the KGB. She was witting regarding a large degree of her husband’s enormous treason, perhaps all of it. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were fanatical Communists in a manner we now associate with jihadists. The cause was their life; it mattered more than anything, even family.

David Greenglass was a traitor and a liar, but the truth is that the U.S. government when it convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of espionage needed his testimony as cover. VENONA told the FBI all it needed to know about Julius and Ethel’s secret life of betrayal, but such top secret information could never be discussed in court. Hence the need for first-hand witnesses, sometimes of dubious credibility, wanting to save their own skin.

Greenglass was content to let his sister die to save himself. But that does not make Ethel Rosenberg innocent of espionage on behalf of one of history’s most murderous regimes. She was a spy for Stalin. We can debate whether the Rosenbergs ought to have been executed — I suspect that will be debated until the end of time — but there is no debating that they were guilty of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Ethel was a witting and willing member of that criminal conspiracy.

Today’s Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, successor to the KGB famed foreign intelligence arm, proudly proclaims both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as “greats” who served Moscow. It would be best if the Meeropols accepted that fact and moved on with their lives. There’s no need to bother President Obama, a busy man, with this deception.

[N.B. Although the Soviet secret police was not named the KGB until 1954, having changed its name numerous times since its establishment in 1917, I’ve used the well-known abbreviation for simplicity. Purists can’t always win.]