Thursday, February 8, 2018

Swiss trying to change image as Europe’s spy hub, say officials

Federal Intelligence Service Switzerland


Officials in Switzerland say new laws enacted in recent months will help them change their country’s image as one of Europe’s most active spy venues. For decades, the small alpine country has been a destination of choice for intelligence officers from all over the world, who use it as a place to meet assets from third countries. For example, a case officer from Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) will travel to Switzerland to meet her Algerian agent. She will exchange money and documents with him before she returns to Britain and he to Algeria, presumably after depositing his earnings into a Swiss bank account.
There are multiple reasons that explain Switzerland’s preferred status as a meeting place for spies and their handlers. The country is suitably located in the center of Europe and is a member of the European Union’s Schengen Treaty, which means that a passport is not required to enter it when arriving there from European Union member-states. Additionally, the country features an efficient transportation and telecommunication infrastructure, and its stable political system offers predictability and security, despite the limited size and strength of its law enforcement and security agencies. Perhaps most important of all, the Swiss have learned not to ask questions of visitors, many of whom flock to the country to entrust their cash to its privacy-conscious banking sector.
But, according to the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS), foreign spies and their handlers should find another venue to meet in secret. Speaking to the Sunday edition of Switzerland’s NZZnewspaper, FIS spokeswoman Isabelle Graber said she and her colleagues were aware that their country is a venue for meetings between intelligence operatives from third countries. Such meetings have “continued to rise in the last few years” and include “everyone from security agency employees to freelancers”, as “the market in trading secrets has exploded”, she said. That trend, added Graber, has led to a corresponding rise in meetings aimed at exchanging information for money. Many such meetings take place throughout Switzerland, she noted, and are “in violation of Swiss sovereignty and can lead to operations against the interests of the nation”.
In the past, said Graber, FIS was unable to prevent such activities on Swiss soil, due to pro-privacy legislation, which meant that the agency’s ability to combat foreign espionage in Switzerland was “far more limited than in other countries”. However, said the intelligence agency spokeswoman, the law recently changed to permit FIS to break into homes and hotels, hack into computers, wiretap phones, and implement surveillance on individuals believed to be spies or intelligence officers of foreign countries. Armed with the new legislation, the FIS is now “working hard to clear up third-country meetings [and] to prevent these from happening or at least disrupt them”, said Graber. Several times this year alone, FIS had forward information about “third-country meetings” to judicial authorities in Switzerland, she said.

Americans In ISIS: Some 300 Tried To Join, 12 Have Returned To U.S.


Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud is shown in a Columbus, Ohio, courtroom in 2015. He was arrested after traveling to Syria, then returning to Ohio, where he planned to carry out an attack. According to a new report, he's one of 12 Americans who went to join extremist groups in Syria or Iraq, and then returned back to the U.S. Mohamud was sentenced last month to 22 years in prison.

An estimated 300 Americans attempted to join the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria, including a small number who rose to senior positions, according to the most detailed report to date on this issue.
So far, 12 of those Americans have returned home, yet none has carried out an attack on U.S. soil, according the report released Monday by George Washington University's Program on Extremism.
"I think what we were struck with was the few numbers of returnees that we saw," said Seamus Hughes, one of the report's authors. "There was always concern that this wave of what the FBI would call 'the terrorist diaspora' would come back. In many ways it's just a trickle right now."
The exact number of Americans who ran off to join the Islamic State — and their fates — has always been fuzzy. The FBI has occasionally offered general numbers, but provided few details.
The report covers the period since 2011, when the Syria war erupted. The Islamic State peaked, in terms of power and territory, in the summer of 2014, when it held large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. then began working with local partners to battle ISIS. The extremist group has now lost virtually all territory it once held, though it is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks in those countries, and has established footholds in several other states.
One percent of foreign fighters
The 300 or so Americans account for about 1 percent of the estimated 30,000 foreign fighters who joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The majority came from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
The George Washington University team scoured online material, reviewed court records, spoke with government officials and interviewed some of those who returned to the U.S. after joining ISIS.
Still, the report could account for just over a third of those who tried or succeeded in joining radical Islamist groups.
"I know the numbers in the intelligence community are much better than mine, as one would expect," said Hughes. "But we tried to do our best to have the largest public accounting of the phenomenon."
Around 50 Americans were arrested as they tried to leave the country, and never made it out of the U.S. The report was able to document 64 individuals who did reach Syria or Iraq.
They include Zulfi Hoxha, a New Jersey resident of Albanian descent.
"He was a bit of loner. High school friends describe him as kind of a geek," Hughes said.
He traveled to Syria in 2015, and U.S. authorities have described as a "senior ISIS commander." He appears in two ISIS propaganda videos, including one where he beheads a prisoner, according to Hughes.
A dozen return to the U.S.
Of the 12 Americans who returned, nine were arrested and remain in custody, the report said. Two others are known to law enforcement, but have not been detained, it added. The 12th man went back to Syria a second time and carried out a suicide bombing, the report said.
While no American has returned and carried out an attack, one man, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud of Ohio, planned to do so.
He was among a small number of Americans to join al-Nusra in Syria, an extremist group linked to al-Qaida. One of his commanders sent him back to Ohio with orders to attack a U.S. military facility.
Mohamud returned to Ohio in 2014, and was arrested the following year. He pleaded guilty to plotting the attacks and last month was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
The report did not deal with those who may have been inspired by ISIS and acted inside the U.S. For example, authorities say Sayfullo Saipov, the man charged with ramming a truck into pedestrians, killing eight in New York City last October, was inspired by ISIS. But his case is not included in the report.
It's still not clear what's happened to thousands of other ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria as the group lost its self-declared caliphate.
Hard-core fighters are expected to remain and keep fighting. Others may be slipping across the border into Turkey. And some have been detained, though the U.S. has given no indication it is holding ISIS fighters.
In Iraq, the government is putting ISIS members on trial.
In Syria, where the war grinds on, it's more complicated. The Syrian Democratic Forces, militia fighters aligned with the U.S., are holding hundreds of ISIS fighters, according to U.S. military officials.

Ex-spy chief claims Palestinian officials worked with CIA to wiretap opponents

Telephones Palestine


The former head of the Palestinian Authority’s spy agency claims that the Palestinian government in the West Bank worked with the United States Central Intelligence Agency to wiretap thousands without court authorization. Tawfiq Tirawi, who headed the Palestinian General Intelligence from its founding in 1994 to 2008, has filed an official complaint against the Palestinian Authority and is calling for a criminal investigation into the alleged wiretaps. The complaint has also been signed by Jawad Obeidat, who is the president of the West Bank’s Bar Association. It is based on a leaked 37-page document that surfaced last month on the social networking application WhatsApp. The document was leaked by an anonymous individual who claims to have worked for a surveillance unit in the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, the Palestinian Authority’s domestic security service.
The leaked document appears to show that the Palestinian Preventive Security Service reached out to the CIA in 2013 asking for assistance with installing a communications surveillance system in the West Bank. The CIA agreed to provide the system in exchange for access to the intercepted data. The two agencies installed the interception system in the summer of 2014 and initiated what appears to have been a large-scale operation that included thousands of telephone subscribers. Initial targets of the operation included members of Hamas —the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip— as well as members of the Iran-supported Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine. But, according to the Associated Press, over time the targets of the program expanded to include “thousands of Palestinians, from senior figures in militant groups to judges, lawyers, civic leaders and political allies of Abbas”. The list of targets included Tirawi and Obeidat, who filed the official complaint on Tuesday.
The anonymous leaker of the document said he decided to quit his job and reveal the information about the intercepts after US President Donald Trump shifted Washington’s policy on Israel’s capital, by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Earlier in February, the Palestinian Authority dismissed the leaked document as “nonsense” and said it was part of a large conspiracy that sought to harm Palestinian interests. The CIA refused to comment on the allegations.

New York man gets 18 years prison for Islamic State support

A New York City man was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to aid Islamic State and assaulting a federal law enforcement officer.
Munther Omar Saleh, 22, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie in Brooklyn, according to John Marzulli, a spokesman for federal prosecutors.
“Mr. Saleh is sincerely remorseful,” said Saleh’s lawyer, Deborah Colson. “He is relieved to have put this behind him and he is ready to make amends.”
Saleh, a resident of the New York City borough of Queens and a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty in February 2017. He admitted that in 2015 he helped New Jersey resident Nader Saadeh with his travel and accompanied him to John F. Kennedy International Airport for a flight to Jordan, where Saadeh was subsequently detained.
Saadeh has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to help Islamic State but has yet to be sentenced.
Saleh and a high school senior, Imran Rabbani, were arrested in June 2015 after running toward a law enforcement surveillance vehicle as they drove to a mosque, according to court records. When he pleaded guilty, Saleh said he “knew” the officers were following him because of his support for Islamic State.
Rabbani was sentenced to 20 months in prison in August 2016 after pleading guilty to a non-terrorism charge.
Prosecutors said Saleh, who was studying at an aeronautics college in Queens, also researched carrying out a domestic attack using a pressure cooker bomb and discussed his plan with another man, Fareed Mumuni, who was also charged.
Mumuni also pleaded guilty but has not yet been sentenced.
As of January, 157 have been charged in the United States in connection with Islamic State, according to the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. The militant group has lost most of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Oklahoma man accused of attending al Qaeda terrorist training camp before 9/11

An Oklahoma man was arrested Tuesday by the FBI, accusing of lying about attending an al Qaeda terrorist training camp, officials said.
A federal grand jury in Oklahoma City handed up the indictment Tuesday against 34-year-old Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, charging him with visa fraud and lying to FBI agents.
Prosecutors said he came to the United States just more than six years ago and failed to indicate on his application for a visa that he attended al Qaeda's al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan in fall 2000.
Federal law enforcement officials said Alfallaj was caught after the FBI recently discovered that his fingerprints matched those found on documents that were seized when the U.S. military raided the camp 16 years ago.
An Oklahoma man was arrested Tuesday by the FBI, accusing of lying about attending an al Qaeda terrorist training camp, officials said.
A federal grand jury in Oklahoma City handed up the indictment Tuesday against 34-year-old Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, charging him with visa fraud and lying to FBI agents.
Prosecutors said he came to the United States just more than six years ago and failed to indicate on his application for a visa that he attended al Qaeda's al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan in fall 2000.
Federal law enforcement officials said Alfallaj was caught after the FBI recently discovered that his fingerprints matched those found on documents that were seized when the U.S. military raided the camp 16 years ago.
 August 2017: Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, 16 years after 9/11

He pleaded not guilty during a brief federal court hearing Tuesday and was ordered held without bond pending a detention hearing next week.

Court documents said that when Alfallaj was questioned in December by the FBI, he denied ever traveling to Afghanistan or associating with any foreign terrorist groups.
Authorities said Alfallaj entered the U.S. in late 2011 on a nonimmigrant visa based on his wife's status as a foreign student. The indictment said Alfallaj answered "no" on an immigration application when asked if he supported terrorist organizations or had received firearms or other specialized training.
Investigators said Alfallaj applied for training at a flight school in western Oklahoma in 2016 and provided his fingerprints as required. Five months later, prosecutors said, FBI analysts discovered a match between those prints and 15 latent fingerprints that were found on al Qaeda forms filled out by people attending the al Farooq training camp.
Federal officials said Alfallaj has been living in Oklahoma since 2012 after having traveled to the United States to join his wife.
The al Qaeda documents were among more than 100 similar forms seized by the U.S. military in December 2001. Asked why it took so long to find a match, an FBI official said the military provided "rooms and rooms" of documents and other materials from the camp to analyze.
"The technology has evolved over the years, allowing us to better check for fingerprint matches. And part of the challenge is the sheer volume of the work," the official said, asking that his name not be disclosed.
Image: A video grab of al Farooq Training Camp
A video grab dated June 19, 2001 shows members of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, or "The Base", organization training with AK-47 sub-machine-guns in a video tape said to have been prepared and released by bin Laden himself.


https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/oklahoma-man-accused-attending-al-qaeda-terrorist-training-camp-n845351

US immigration and customs agency seeks to join Intelligence Community

Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE


The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reportedly seeking to join the Intelligence Community, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence-focused arms of the federal government. Currently, ICE is a federal law enforcement that operates under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. It consists of two components: Homeland Security Investigations, which probes cross-border criminal activity, including drugs and weapons trafficking, money laundering and cybercrime; and Enforcement and Removal Operations, whose mission is to find and capture undocumented aliens.
But some senior ICE officials have been exploring the possibility of joining the US Intelligence Community. According to The Daily Beast, which reported the alleged plans, the officials believe that by joining the Intelligence Community, ICE will become privy to intelligence that will assist in its mission. They also claim that membership in the Intelligence Community would afford ICE “greater prestige, credibility and authority” within the federal government. The Daily Beastreports that ICE’s effort to join the Intelligence Community began during the administration of US President Barack Obama. However, it has picked up steam following the election of President Donald Trump. Some believe that President Trump would be willing to sign an executive order that would incorporate ICE in the Intelligence Community.
Some civil liberties watchdogs, however, are weary of such plans. They claim that ICE is a domestic law enforcement agency and should not have access to practices and techniques used by spy agencies like the CIA or the National Security Agency. The latter frequently break the laws of foreign countries in pursuit of their mission, which is to steal foreign intelligence. These agencies are characterized by a different culture, say critics, which is not respectful of legal constraints. But supporters of ICE’s proposed inclusion into the Intelligence Community argue that there are several law enforcement agencies that are already members of the Intelligence Community. Notably, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration —both law enforcement agencies— belong to the Intelligence Community.
The Daily Beast said it contacted ICE but a spokesperson refused to comment on the story. The Department of Homeland Security did not return emails and phone calls about the proposal to include ICE in the Intelligence Community.

US conducts airstrikes against Syrian pro-regime forces after 'unprovoked attack'

tacp jtac

US forces reportedly responded to an "unprovoked attack" by Syrian pro-regime forces at the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters on Wednesday, according to a statement from US Central Command (CENTCOM).
US-led coalition forces, who typically advise and assist SDF troops, conducted airstrikes against the Syrian forces who attacked their "well established" headquarters. No US forces were injured during the attack according to reports from multiple news outlets.
"In defense of Coalition and partner forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition's defeat-Daesh mission," a CENTCOM statement said, referring to the alternative label for Islamic State militants.
The initial attack happened eight kilometers, or roughly five miles, east of the de-confliction line on the Euphrates River.
Meanwhile, reports from rebel-held areas near the capital of Damascus claim that airstrikes from the Syrian government and Russia killed scores of civilians. Activists and first responders said that at least 55 people were killed after the airstrikes on Tuesday.
Around 2,000 US troops were reportedly deployed to Syria, according to the Defense Department. US military presence dwindled down after a major offensive to rid Islamic State militants from Raqqa, once a major hub for the terrorists.
Following the siege on Raqqa, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that US forces would focus on diplomacy and that they "won't just walk away" from efforts to stabilize the region.