The Spy Brief: Dead Drop: 30 June 2018


Here are some recent intelligence and security stories that you might have missed but which are informative and even fun. Truth is not infrequently stranger than fiction, especially in espionage. Enjoy!

Vienna wants Berlin to comment on reports that German intelligence (BND) was spying on Austria with a far-reaching SIGINT program. Good luck with that.

NSA is moving all its TS/SCI to the new IC Gov Cloud – which sounds to any counterintelligence person like an effort to just make it easier for the next Snowden to steal everything.

Trump’s State Department is missing the boat on cyber stuff. I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

“Which is the greatest threat? Russia, of course!” explains the former GCHQ director in a presentation on cyber threats.

FSB claims to have unmasked another foreign spy acting against Russia, this time for Romania. Count me skeptical.

Far-right attacks on Roma in Ukraine by a shadowy gang calling itself (I’m not kidding) the Misanthropic Division are actually an SVR-orchestrated provocation. Well, yeah.

Turkish MFA claims the FBI is investigating Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) presence in 20 U.S. states. This is one of those weird stories you’d think the MSM might dig into a bit.

MOSSAD director says his service has secret ties to countries which don’t diplomatically recognize the state of Israel. Can confirm.

Israel has always had serious leak problems in its spy agencies – and according to SHABAK it’s getting worse.

The Kremlin’s secret influence campaign in Egypt is having some important successes, according to this detailed assessment.

Revealed: CENTCOM has been bombing Yemen an awful lot – 44 air strikes in 2016, then 131 in 2017, big jump.

WANTED: Gen Jamil Hassan, head of Syrian AF Intelligence, a top Assad lieutenant and senior human-rights-abuser in Damascus.

Assessing the PRC’s comprehensive espionage-propaganda-subversion political warfare campaign against Australia. Important stuff.

Afghan Interior Ministry admits the Taliban are operating in all areas of the country. 17 years into our war there. #WINNING

Another crafty spy pigeon captured, this time in India. Couldn’t cats fix this problem and lower the espionage threat?

Europe is broadly way ahead of the USA in fighting Kremlin disinformation, and in protecting elections from Kremlin interference.

Islamist terrorism plus Russian spying and subversion remain the top threats to British security, explains the Security Service (MI5) director.

29 yo Tunisian arrested in Germany on terrorism charges, specifically producing ricin (!) for an attack, was in touch with ISIS multiple times, but was not an official member of the terror gang.

Admit it, who wouldn’t prefer to conduct counterterrorism ops in the sun-drenched Caribbean rather than some dump in Central Asia or in deepest, darkest Africa?

UN human rights office concludes rule of law is “virtually absent” in Venezuela as government thugs murder opponents with impunity.

Whoops: “The current threat environment no longer met the threshold of a CSIS investigation.” Not great timing there, guys.

US IC’s counterintelligence czar tells Kaspersky to try harder – setting up a “Transparency Center” in Switzerland is just cosmetics.

Remember the US laptop ban on airplanes? Here’s the interesting UK spy backgrounder on how and why that happened.


The Spy Brief: Dead Drop, 20 April 2018


It’s time for another TSB Dead Drop of interesting, provocative, thought-provoking, and sometimes even humorous intelligence and security stories from around the world which you might have missed … enjoy!

Extraordinary rendition? Wait, I thought the US IC did that – and it’s bad, very bad, a serious no-no. Apparently not for Turkey.

Some deets on GCHQ’s recent massive cyber attack on ISIS to degrade that awful terror group’s online capabilities.

Confirmed: Russian intelligence (GRU) was spying on Sergei Skripal and his daughter for at least 5 years before their attempted assassination in Salisbury.

Repeat after me: Overthrowing Gadhafi was a terrible, rotten, no-good idea for Europe and the West. (Told ya!)

What exactly is USCYBERCOM supposed to be doing – and where does NSA stop and CYBERCOM start? Well, aren’t those good questions …

ETA – once one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups – is set to announce its formal dissolution. (Confession: I forgot they still existed at all, even on paper.)

GCHQ boss calls out Russia for “industrial scale disinformation,” says Kremlin “blurring boundaries between criminal and state activity.”

Planting deza, fake news, smearing Hillary with Russian lies – gosh, that sounds like a dry-run for 2016, wouldn’t you say, Paulie?

Turkish intelligence (MIT) global campaign to kidnap – sorry, extradite – Gülenists reaches central Africa. Mike Flynn was not available for comment.

Per above, MIT states it’s “packaged up and delivered 80 FETÖ (Fethullahist Terror Organisation) members from 18 countries,” boasts: “FETÖ are in panic in Pennsylvania.”

Israel’s vaunted intelligence agencies just celebrated their 70th birthday. What does their future look like?

Most Israeli spooks really, really dislike Bibi. Like, really-really.

Pentagon quietly explains that President Trump lied to the American public: ISIS is not yet defeated, in fact this fight is far from over. Oh.

So, um, what happens if Beijing decides to make Taiwan their Crimea? That’s a really good question …

A rare bit of detail on Australia’s emerging offensive cyber capabilities. Canberra’s investing heavily there, especially in ASD (Australia’s NSA).

Charges laid in case of Beijing spy caught in Sweden spying on the Tibetan diaspora. Nobody tell Richard Gere.

New Slovak PM says his country is not a “mafia state” despite recent murder of journalist and his fiancée. We’ll see.

More revelations about just how dirty Northern Ireland’s Dirty War really was at the peak of The Troubles.

Germany is alarmingly pro-Russian on many issues. Austria’s even worse – a brief explainer on why that is.

New head of Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) is a retired army general who formerly headed Swiss military intelligence.







The Spy Brief: IC 101 — Welcome to SpookWorld


The U.S. Intelligence Community is the best-funded and most complex collection of spy agencies on the planet. The “IC,” as the cool spy kids call it, is simply the catch-all term for America’s intelligence agencies, 16 of them in all. Although the term has been around since the early 1950s, it was only formally codified decades later, in Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan at the end of 1981. EO 12333 defined who’s who in the IC, who does what mission, and what they can’t do either, legally speaking.

There’s a good deal of publicly available information about the IC and its agencies — unlike some countries (or the USA in the first half of the last Cold War), Washington, DC is pretty open these days about who does what in the IC, broadly speaking. Nevertheless, the veil of operational secrecy, combined with decades of flawed reporting and bad books, plus ridiculous depictions in movies and TV shows, means that the public often has a distorted view of the IC and what it actually does.

Therefore, I’m embarking on a series for the exclusive benefit of subscribers to The Spy Brief, which will clear the air, burst myths, and brush aside misconceptions about the IC and what America’s spies actually do. This will be a primer on all 16 IC agencies, an insider’s take on who does what, along with detailed analysis of how our spooks operate — including how well they play (or don’t) with each other. Bureaucratic imperatives, including no small amount of rivalry regarding missions and budgets, often dictate why spy agencies do what they do. On its bad days, the IC can resemble a highly secretive and absurdly expensive Department of Motor Vehicles, and I’ll explain how that works in practice.

At the head of the IC sits the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), a cabinet-level position created in 2004, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, which Congressional inquiry determined occurred in part because the IC failed to act on available intelligence. Leaving that knotty controversy aside for now, the DNI was created to act as the functional boss of the IC, able to dictate terms and give commands — along with, crucially, important budgetary power — in order to make the IC function better as an integrated whole.

The current DNI is Dan Coats, appointed by President Donald Trump; he’s been in the job a little over a year. In all, there have been five DNIs (plus two short-term acting DNIs). Most of them, unlike Coats, were veteran spooks with many decades of IC experience behind them when they took the top job. (To be fair to Coats, he sat on the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee for six years, so he was familiar with IC issues before becoming DNI.) The longest-serving DNI was Jim Clapper, who held the post from mid-2010 to early 2017, an IC “lifer” who in his retirement has been a trenchant critic of President Trump and his Kremlin ties.

Before 2004, the IC’s notional boss was the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), in other words the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, who in an awkward arrangement was simultaneously the sort-of head honcho for the IC while having the full-time job of heading CIA. This never worked very well, going back to the creation of this cumbersome set-up by the National Security Act of 1947. In particular, the DCI lacked budgetary control over anything outside CIA, while approximately 80 percent of “his” IC assets actually belonged to the Department of Defense (DoD), which the DCI had no bureaucratic control over, functionally speaking.

Thus was the DNI position born, to remedy this imperfect set-up, and let me say that since April 2005, when the first DNI reported for duty, the job’s authorities have gradually grown more real, and it has brought a needed degree of central control over our 16 intelligence agencies, many of which are vast secret empires which congenitally don’t like to share with others. However, this has also meant the creation of yet another top-secret bureaucracy for the DNI, which is termed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). In practice, the ODNI can be considered the IC’s 17th member, one with a good deal of authority over the other 16 agencies.

Exactly how many employees work for the IC is a difficult question to answer, given both classification and the complex way the ODNI counts them, but it’s safe to say that not less than a quarter-million Americans work for the IC as Federal government civilians, as military members, or as contractors. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked for the IC as all three, at one point or another.) The IC’s publicly admitted budget hovers in the region of $50 billion annually, not counting billions more spent on “black budget” programs which remain classified. However, all IC spending and activities are subject to oversight by the House and Senate intelligence committees.

In addition to battalions of senior staff positions to manage all those top-secret resources — jobs generally considered cushy, meddling, and wasteful by IC personnel working in operational intelligence — the ODNI includes a handful of entities directly under its control, including several sub-agencies which are largely staffed by personnel detailed from across the IC:

The National Intelligence Council (NIC), which functions as a kind of in-house think tank for the DNI, focusing on long-term, predictive analysis. NIC jobs are considered a plum assignment for IC analysts on the make, but nobody in operational agencies pays much attention to their glossy output.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which serves as a clearinghouse for intelligence on terrorists, mainly but not exclusively jihadists. NCTC is designed to prevent another 9/11, above all by making sure that what the IC knows about terrorists is shared with people who need to know it. The absence of more 9/11-scale attacks on our country since 2001 can be regarded as a metric of success here.

The National Counterproliferation Center (NCPC), which tracks the development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological, and chemical methods of mass killing, as well as the means to deliver them (especially ballistic missiles). Their work isn’t terribly sexy, being focused on complex scientific details, but is highly important.

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), formerly known as the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX), works in an area that the mainstream IC has long regarded as an afterthought and annoyance. However, disasters like the Snowden defection, the loss of tens of millions of background investigation files to China, and numerous other counterintelligence (CI) fails since 2013 mandated the creation of the beefed-up NCSC. There’s still not much indication that the IC is institutionally serious about CI, however.

In this series, I’ll devote a post to each of the 16 agencies which make up the IC and are subordinated to the DNI. These are:

The Central Intelligence Agency, an independent agency

The National Security Agency, which belongs to DoD

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which belongs to DoD

The National Reconnaissance Office, which belongs to DoD

The Defense Intelligence Agency, which belongs to DoD

The Intelligence Branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which belongs to the Department of Justice (DoJ)

The Office of National Security Intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which belongs to DoJ

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the Department of State

The Office of Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security

The Office of Terrorism and Financial Analysis of the Department of the Treasury

The Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence of the Department of Energy

The Office of Naval Intelligence of the U.S. Navy

Intelligence and Security Command of the U.S. Army

Air Force Intelligence (25th Air Force) of the U.S. Air Force

Marine Corps Intelligence Activity of the U.S. Marine Corps

Coast Guard Intelligence of the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the coming weeks, I’ll bring you a deep-dive on all 16 of these shadowy entities which spy on behalf of Uncle Sam and the American taxpayer. I promise you an informative and entertaining read, going as far as I can without violating the lifetime secrecy oath which I am subject to as a former spook, as well as someone who never seeks to harm the classified intelligence sources and methods which protect us. Watch this space!


The Spy Brief: Dead Drop, 2 April 2018


Here are some recent intelligence and security stories that you might have missed but which are informative and sometimes fun. Enjoy!

Using your official French diplomatic car to smuggle weapons to HAMAS – yeah, that’s not a good visual right there

Austria’s new right-wing government is mired in a very messy spy scandal that’s become a political bombshell

New Delhi accuses Pakistani-backed terrorists Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) of attacking a joint group of Indian Army + cops in Jammu and Kashmir – and by “LeT” we mean ISI

ROK National Intelligence Service reports that Pyongyang is “strongly committed to denuclearization”….cool story, Seoul bro

No big, but Germany’s FI agency (BND) now says “with certainty” that DPRK missiles can  reach Central Europe

Tumblr admits that it, too, was exploited by the Kremlin and its “fake news” in 2016 – no way, we never noticed

Is the Russian military using a new EW weapon to take out Ukrainian drones? Seems important…

The case of Ukraine’s hero POW pilot turned (alleged) coup-plotter/terrorist keeps getting weirder

Relations between Kyiv and Budapest are getting worse over Magyar minority rights. Cui bono here (oh, right).

Turkish CI opens investigation of Dutch MI spy who Ankara claims was trying to forge “fake documents to prove Turkey’s relation to ISIS.” Is that so?

BLUF: MOSSAD directors really, really don’t like Bibi or his policies. Major PR blow to Likud here.

While we’re on this, MOSSAD isn’t very happy with IDF’s military intelligence (AMAN) either – this is getting ugly

IRGC (Pasdaran)-made IEDs disguised as rocks (no, really) are an increasing problem across the Middle East

Some interesting developments in Beijing’s effort to make the PLA the world’s top cyber army…seems important

Like RT, but YUGER: merger announced of China Central Television (CCTV), China Radio International and China National Radio under a single network to be named Voice of China

Indian Army claims Chinese hackers are exploiting WhatsApp groups to mine personal data from Indians

Contrary to statements by the idiot Kiwi PM, there actually are Russian spy ops in (and aimed at) NZ #duh

Albanian intelligence admits that Moscow’s using its spies to try to clandestinely influence their country too

Finnish intelligence (Supo) warns: “Cyber espionage poses a serious threat to Finnish information capital”

London has shared “unprecedented levels of intelligence with partners” since the Skripal nerve-gas attack – AKA how to get allies on board against Putin

Austria’s recent law banning full-face veils “has mainly resulted in the issuing of warnings against people wearing smog masks, skiing gear and animal costumes”

Interesting analysis of figures in Germany’s right-wing AfD who are connected to Putin and the Kremlin (auf deutsch)

Director of CSEC (Canada’s NSA) wants new cyber-authorities proposed by Ottawa to protect the country from cyber-attacks

Some details on how US DoS’s Global Engagement Center used SCL Defence, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, for counterpropaganda work

FWIW: Soviet scientist claims that novichok nerve agent was used before Skripal, including in a 1995 hit on a Russian businessman

Feminist scholar and “poststructuralist icon” turns out to have been a Commie spy during the Cold War — #shocker