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Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein, born February 13, 1944, is the SpyTalk columnist and blogger at The Washington Post. Previously, he was the SpyTalk columnist and National Security Editor for Congressional Quarterlys website, CQ Politics, from 2002-2009. | Photo: Aaron Stipkovich | Jeff Stein, Intelligence, Author, Spy, Washington Post, Npr,

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Famed Cuban Counterspy Dies
4/23/2013 10:30:00 AM

A former Cuban counterspy who successfully infiltrated the CIA during a decade-long run in the 1960s and '70s died a decorated hero last week, according to the independent Havana Times.

Nicolas Alberto Sirgado Ross first penetrated the CIA in 1966 while in London with a Cuban mission, said the online newspaper, which bills itself as 'open-minded writing from Cuba.'

Sirgado's decade was allegedly spent uncovering and thwarting CIA assassination attempts against Fidel Castro.? The Havana Times credits Sirgado with foiling 'several of the plots' on Castro's life.?

"His record as an undercover agent was the basis for the popular Cuban series 'En silencio ha tenido que ser' ("It had to be in silence') aired on national television in the 80s," reported the paper, launched in 2008.

He was 77. His body was cremated and a funeral held in Havana last Friday.

Ricin Case Hearing Postponed, Settlement Could Be Near
4/23/2013 9:55:00 AM


The third day of hearings in the case of a Mississippi man accused of mailing ricin-tainted letters to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a local judge was unexpectedly cancelled Tuesday.

According to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, "additional news will be presented later today, his defense counsel announced to reporters in the Oxford courtroom."

The announcement could mean a plea bargain is imminent.

In a previous surprise, authorities reported that no evidence of the killer agent was found in the Mississippi home of accused sender Paul Kevin Curtis, The Washington Post reported.

While Curtis' lawyer, Christi McCoy, argued this is tantamount to proof that her client was framed and should be released from custody, the FBI is not buying it.? Special Agent Brandon Grant said in testimony yesterday that despite no evidence turning up during the initial search, 'given information right now, we believe we have the right individual.'

Curtis' history of mental illness, bipolar disorder, was also discussed at the hearing.?

Special Agent Grant asserted that it 'helps establish a potential behavior background for Mr. Curtis, perhaps not realizing what he's doing,' according to the Associated Press.

Alleged Railway Saboteur May Be Advanced Biological Engineer
4/22/2013 3:01:00 PM

One of the suspects in an alleged terrorist plot to blow up a Canadian railway line may be the same man as listed as a Tunis-born biological engineer at a prestigious research institute in Quebec, who features an al Qaeda banner on his Linked-in web site.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, were planning to sabotage tracks of Canada's VIA passenger line that runs from Toronto toward New York authorities said.

"Had this plot been carried out it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured," Royal Canadian Mounted Police official James Malizia told reporters.

A man named Chiheb Esseghaier lists himself as a PhD candidate at the Institute National de la Recherche Scientifique in Quebec. He has written extensively on advanced biological engineering topics, including viruses, at INRS and earlier as a graduate student at Sherbrooke University during 2008-2009, according to his Linked-in profile.

Punditpress also captured a photo of Esseghaier with other INRS researchers, standing ninth in from the left.

Esseghaier described his academic background on a personal website (which now appears to have been taken down).

"Born in Tunis, Tunisia. I got Engineer degree in Industrial Biology from Institut National des Sciences Appliqu?es et de Technologie (INSAT), Tunis in 2007. After that, I continue master studies at the same institute in Industrial Biotechnology field and i got the MSc degree in 2008. Then, i moved to Sherbrooke University to work on research project on SPR biosensor and gallium arsenide semi-conductor biofunctionnalization. In November 2010, I joined BBBL lab in Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) to start PhD program in developing optical and electrochemical biosensors."

The punditpress web site listed his full academic accomplishments.

Shameless Lindsey Graham's Boston Cracks Blow Up in His Face
4/22/2013 12:01:00 PM

Does Lindsey Graham have a screw loose? Or is he just shameless in his latest attempt to wring partisan advantage from a national tragedy?

Whatever, his latest attacks on an American intelligence agency blew up on him Monday like a trick cigar.

There was a time, long ago, when many considered the South Carolina Republican a rational, moderate voice on foreign policy. With his latest outburst, on the Boston massacre, that portrait seems as ancient as the idea that partisan politics stops at the water's edge.

As CNN reported today, 'Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said Sunday the FBI may have dropped the ball in its investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, began easing off that claim Monday, saying instead the agency 'responsibly handled' the situation.

Turns out Graham spoke first, talked to the FBI later, according to an interview he gave CNN's Jim Accosta.

'The Republican senator from South Carolina said he talked to the assistant director of the FBI after he made his assertions Sunday and had some of his questions answered, including why the case was cleared and how Tsarnaev may have been able to travel to Russia in 2012, a 'misspelling' keeping his name from getting flagged,' CNN reported.?

Oh. Just fire away, senator. Don't let the facts get in the way of a a partisan shot, no matter the stakes.

Graham and his sidekicks John McCain (R-Az), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Peter King (R-NY) also were forced Monday to back off their suggestion that Tsarnae should be tried by a military commission trial -- because, well, it was illegal.

'He is not eligible for military commission trial,' Graham confessed.

And how does he know that?

'I wrote the military commission in 2009,' he told CNN. 'He cannot go to military commission.'??

All this is just the latest pathetic example of Graham & co. making spitballs from a national security crisis. As Talking Points Memo's Tom Kludt wrote back on Apr. 2:

'From the September attack in Benghazi, Libya to the contentious confirmation hearing of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been an intense critic of President Barack Obama in recent months, prompting some to suggest that the two-term Republican is grandstanding in order to placate his conservative constituency,' Kludt wrote.

Graham all but confirmed it to the New York Times?the same day.

'Anytime you challenge the president, Obama, it's good politics,' Graham said, adding that, gee, he was also critical of former President George W. Bush.

Right.? Have you no shame, senator?

Scribbling Spies: Former CIA Officers Present Books at National Archives
4/19/2013 2:59:00 PM
Three legendary spooks and a biographer are talking about their books at an all-day espionage literary fair Saturday at the National Archives in Washington, and I'm lucky enough to be their presenter.

It's free. Come on down!

If you can't, the fair, jointly sponsored by the Archives and the International Spy Museum, will also be webcast live (then immediately archived) on the National Archives UStream channel.

The luminaries of the dark-arts will include:

From the Archives press release:

Michael J. Sulick, 10:30 a.m.

Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War

Michael J. Sulick, former director of the CIA's clandestine service, will discuss a history of espionage cases inside the United States from the American Revolution, through the Civil War and two World Wars, to the atomic age of the Manhattan Project. Spying in America is a perfect introduction to the early history of espionage in America and focuses on the motivation that drove these individuals to spy, the secrets they betrayed, their exposure and punishment, and the damage they inflicted upon America's national security.

Randall B. Woods, noon
Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA
Eminent historian Randall B. Woods discusses his book Shadow Warrior, a biography of William Colby, a World War II commando, Cold War spy, and the CIA director under Presidents Nixon and Ford. William Egan Colby played a critical role in some of the most pivotal events of the 20th century. A quintessential member of the greatest generation, Colby embodied the moral and strategic ambiguities of the postwar world, and first confronted many of the dilemmas about power and secrecy that America still grapples with today.

Richard L. Holm, 1:30 p.m.

The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA

For more than three decades, Richard L. Holm worked in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, now the National Clandestine Service, the component directly responsible for collecting human intelligence. His assignments took him to seven countries on three continents, and his travels added many more destinations. At almost every turn Holm encountered his share of dangerous characters and situations, including one that nearly ended his life before he turned 30. The Craft We Chose is a chronicle of those episodes.

Sandra Grimes, 3 p.m.

Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed

One of the most destructive traitors in American history, CIA officer Aldrich Ames provided information to the Soviet Union that contributed to the deaths of at least 10 Soviet intelligence officers who spied for the United States. Sandra Grimes, one of the two CIA officers directly responsible for tracking down Ames chronicles their involvement in the hunt for a mole. Considering it their personal mission, Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille dedicated themselves to identifying the traitor responsible for the execution or imprisonment of the Soviet agents with whom they worked. Their efforts eventually led them to a long-time acquaintance and coworker in the CIA's Soviet-East European division and Counterintelligence Center, Aldrich Ames.

Who Knows What Evil Lurked in Boston Bombers' Hearts
4/19/2013 11:01:00 AM

Who knows for sure why someone turns to bombs?? The uncle of the Boston bombing suspects called his nephews 'losers' and dismissed suggestions that they were real Islamists.

But as we've seen since the first World Trader Center bombing in 1993, some take up the banner of religious extremism because they failed to get a steady foothold on life. Are they any less authentically religious than someone who turns to prayer in times of stress?

In any event, as reports emerged that the suspects immigrated from Chechnya years ago, some began looking for signs of an al-Qaeda connection. While no evidence supporting the suspicion has emerged, it's no less true that Islamic radicals have made significant inroads among Chechens battling Russian domination.? And for that reason alone, Washington has opposed them, even while regularly tut-tutting Moscow's brutal repression of Chechen separatists.

'It goes back to the late 1990s, when the then second-in-command of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, went to Chechnya to look for a base. He was arrested but then let go,' Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote Friday. 'The Pankisi Gorge in Georgia was a training camp of al-Qaeda until Georgia ' with American help ' ousted them. So it's a long connection.'

Aron notes that the Chechen independence movement 'was initially secular; it was a region that suffered hugely ' initially under the Soviets ' when there were mass deportations to gulags in 1944.' But events moved it into the Islamists' orbit.

'After a Moscow theater was seized in a 2002 terror attack, there was a brutal Russian assault on Chechnya. And we saw how this movement became more of a martyrs' movement that had nothing to do with the independence of Chechnya and more to do with jihad. It started as a Soviet/Russian problem, it festered, legitimate demands for independence were never met, and the younger fighters became radicalized,' Aron said.

Preeti Bhattacharji, writing at the Council on Foreign Relations, cites several links between Al-Qaeda and the Chechens that began years before Zawahiri showed up.

'A Chechen warlord known as Khattab is said to have met with Osama bin Laden while both men were fighting the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan,' Bhattacharji wrote.

In Jan. 2000, the Taliban regime running Afghanistan recognized Chechnya as an independent state.? After the regime was toppled by U.S. invaders, Chechens became a constant presence among Islamic fighters in Afghanistan.

Russian authorities have long asserted ties between the Chechen rebels and other international terrorists group 'to generate Western sympathy for Russia's military campaign against the Chechen rebels' according to Bhattacharji.

The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum called U.S. policy toward the Chechens 'two faced' after DHS moved in 2004 to deport a moderate, secular Chechen leader to Russia, where he was certain to be executed.

'We may not have the national energy to do anything about Chechnya or the national attention span even to care much about what happens there, but at least we should have the national decency to treat Chechens who are trying to achieve peace in their country with consistency,' Applebaum wrote.

Ricin is the Weapon of Choice for Right Wing Nuts
4/17/2013 1:07:00 PM

In the dead of winter in 1997, I traveled to frozen central Minnesota to track down members of a "patriot" militia who had been convicted of conspiring to kill an IRS agent with ricin. I later wrote a story (for Gentleman's Quarterly, of all places) about the government's rudimentary preparations for chemical or biological attacks. ?

It seems almost quaint now. Back then--before al Qaeda loomed large in our minds--ricin was all the rage with the anti-government militias and right wing nuts. ?Some of their primitive newsletters even carried advertisements for booklets on how to make ricin, an incredibly lethal poison derived from castor seeds.

Beyond Minnesota, there were arrests over the years in Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere--almost all anti-government zealots.

In 2004, the office of Senator Bill Frist, R-TN, was allegedly targeted by a ricin-laced letter in 2004.? The ricin was found in the mail room but the letter itself was never found; neither was the sender.

Now envelopes suspected of being laced with ricin are showing up again in Washington, one directed at Sen. Richard Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who last week voted for having a debate on gun legislation, another at President Obama, a constant target of crazed, and often racist, fulminations from the extreme right.??

Update: Authorities on Wednesday night reportedly?arrested?Kenneth Curtis, of Tupelo, Miss., in connection with the case.

Of course, ricin has been employed by communist intelligence services and Central Asian terrorists, and one can't rule out that some al Qaeda-linked group isn't targeting us again. But if history's any guide, it's the rightwing nuts who are out in the garage?again crushing castor beans.

Consider this handful of cases compiled by the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Anti-Defamation League:

??? *Jeffrey Boyd Levenderis, of Tallmadge, Ohio 'a fan of the Jeff Rense Program, an anti-Semitic and conspiracy-oriented radio show' was arrested in 2011 for possession of 'high-grade ricin.'? Levenderis had powdered the ricin 'in an attempt to make it suitable for airborne delivery.'

??? *A self-described 'survivalist or militia member', Denys Ray Hughes of Arizona was arrested in Kansas in 2005 when ATF agents found 'castor bean plants, a pipe bomb, various bomb-making components, and an illegal silencer'ricin formulas, bottles of castor beans, and dimethyl sulfoxide (which theoretically can allow ricin to penetrate the skin), as well as 43 guns' in his various properties.? He also owned many of the booklets described earlier.? Hughes, released from prison to a halfway house in 2011 is currently on the run and considered 'armed and dangerous.'

??? *Steven Michael Ekberg, a 22 year old from Ocala, Florida was arrested in 2005?for possession of '83 castor beans and 'byproducts consistent with the manufacture of ricin."? Ekberg, fearing the worst, reportedly said he must "take some sort of action" against the federal government if they targeted him.? Classic self-fulfilling prophesy.

??? *Beginning in 1992, the Minnesota Patriots Council, 'an anti-government extremist group' manufactured ricin.? Possible targets for the poison included 'a U.S. deputy marshal and a deputy sheriff.'? Three members of the Council were arrested three years later for possession of the poison.

??? *In Washington State in 200o, authorities discovered that James Dalton Bell, 39, and his pal Robert East, 46,? were trying to figure out how to make ricin from castor beans.? Bell's targets were clear: 'He had already acquired the home addresses of nearly 100 federal employees from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), IRS, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and computer files from voter registration.'

??? *In the 1990s, the Minnesota Patriots Council 'opposed the notion of a federal government and refused to recognize any authority above the local county. Its members protested U.S. taxation policies and met periodically in small groups, or cells. Some militant adherents of the group even met to discuss violent methods (such as blowing up buildings) to combat what they perceived as tyrannical, illegitimate federal authorities."

And so on, and on...

Circuit Board Could Crack Boston Bombing Case (UPDATED)
4/17/2013 12:21:00 PM
The tiniest shard of a circuit board can lead police to a bomber.

According to the Wall Street Journal, investigators in Boston have recovered a circuit board piece.? If true, that could lead the FBI to the culprits, as it did in the bombing of PamAm Flight 103 over Scotland in 1989.

A similar fragment, discovered in the wreckage scattered around Lockerbie, led the FBI to Libya and the conviction of Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi in the case.

'Without the timer fragment' -- contained in a circuit board shard -- 'we would have been unable to develop additional evidence against Libya," Richard Marquise, a leading FBI agent on the PanAm case, said in the Dutch documentary film, Lockerbie Revisited.


Marquise, who headed the Washington end of the FBI investigation, told SpyTalk by email Wednesday night:

"I had read that a fragment of a circuit board was found which might -- let's be be clear -- might be connected to the device."

"As in Lockerbie" Marquise added, "two circuit board fragments were found--one to a Toshiba radio, which told us what kind of container the bomb was in, and the second, which was traced to a timer made for Libya (one of 20).?

"These circuit boards might be able to be linked to a cell phone, detonator, etc. But I have no way to know what it goes to, or if in fact it is identifiable," said Marquise, now retired from the FBI.

"Most electronic components have circuit boards, so if in fact a cell phone was used, they could be able to determine make and model.?Other identification is more difficult, and since I have not seen the fragment it is difficult to say if it was in fact part of the device."

Boston Bomb Case Will be Solved Quickly
4/16/2013 11:54:00 AM
Or so I predicted on Washington, DC's WUSA-TV-9 today.

The intelligence technologies and policies developed in the past dozen years -- the same ones that give civil libertarians pause (and rightly, I should add) -- provide? the FBI and other investigative agencies vastly more power to solve the case than were available before the 9/11 attacks.? Watch it here.

How They Will Investigate the Boston Bombing
4/16/2013 11:08:00 AM
Former White House Counterterrorism Adviser Richard A. Clarke says U.S. security agencies have a wealth of investigative resources and techniques to employ against whomever carried out Monday's horrific bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

"While detectives and federal agents have started the laborious process of interviewing thousands of people in Boston, much of the work that is likely to be key to solving the Boston Bombing is technical and forensic," Clarke said on his FaceBook page.

Video from bystanders' cell phones, retail outlets and traffic cameras could provide quick clues to the perpetrators. The National Security Agency will also zero in on cell phone traffic around Boston and to such terrorist lairs and Pakistan and Yemen, he said.?

The resources that the government can bring to the case a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks are stupendous, said Clarke, a White House counterterrorism adviser to both Bushes and President Clinton.

"First, the FBI will stitch together hundreds of hours of video camera recordings from private and public surveillance and traffic cameras, as well as recordings made by private citizens attending the race. They will look for when the bombs might have been left behind and then examine the faces of everyone who was in the area around that time. They will try to put names to those faces, using facial recognition matching software, drawing on drivers license, passport, and visa databases."

After agents from Israel's Mossad carried out an assassination in Dubai, Clark said, "the police in the United Arab Emirates were able to recreate most of the the assassination operation by using snippets from dozens of surveillance cameras. For the FBI in Boston, a similar process has now begun."

"Second, FBI and NSA will look at phone records. If the bombs were command detonated using mobile phones to trigger the blast, it may be possible to find out what phone numbers were used by seeing what numbers were called on that block or in that neighborhood at exactly the time of the blasts. The FBI will look at calls that went through specific cell towers in the Copley Square-Prudential Center neighborhood of Back Bay. There will be many innocent calls made at that time, but if some of the calls went to unregistered mobile numbers (an unregistered phone is a mobile device bought at a convenience store without providing a telephone company a user name, relying instead on pre-paid calling cards), those 'burner phones' may have been the detonators.

"The FBI will want to find out who bought the 'burner phones' used to make the calls and to receive them. It may be possible to determine where the phones were sold and when. If they were sold at a convenience store like a CVS or 7-11, there may be store surveillance camera video of customers present when the phones were sold. An image of the buyer could then be made public in the hope that someone will come forward to identify the face.

"NSA will also look for calls from the Boston area around the time of the blast to suspicious numbers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other Middle East locations. If it were an Islamist attack (which is by no means certain), the bomber may have checked in with fellow terrorists before or after the strike. FBI will check chat rooms and blog posts on right wing American extremists groups to see if there is any sign that people in that sub-culture knew about the attack before it happened or have guesses about who may have done it.

"Third, FBI (perhaps with help from ATF) will try to reassemble the bombs by gathering as many tiny fragments of material as possible., as they did in the case of the bombing of Pan Am 103 and Oklahoma City. Already they have informed guesses about the explosive material and the fragmentation material. They will collect fragments from the buildings, the temporary crowd control fence that lined Boylston Street and, regrettably, from the severed limbs of the victims. Next, the FBI will try to determine if a bomb design was used based upon a specific 'how to make a bomb' web page on the Internet. Law enforcement authorities will try to determine where the bomb materials and the back pack or other carrying case were purchased.

"Fourth, Homeland Security investigators will examine who flew out of Boston, especially to foreign locations, around the time of the bombing. In the 1993 World Trade Center attack and the CIA Headquarters-Route 123 shootings, attackers moved quickly to the airport to get out of the country.

"Fifth, police and federal agents will contact all of their informants in Islamist cells and American Right Wing and Aryan Supremacist groups. They will offer rewards for leads, for suspicions. Unless the attack was done by a self-initiated loner (which is highly possible), the bomber or bombers will tell someone eventually of their involvement. Alternatively, as in the case of the Unibomber, a family member may call the police when they realize that their brother, husband, or son may have been involved.

"In major investigations such as these, the case is usually solved either very quickly due to a lucky break or it takes months of painful detailed work. Sometimes, as in the Atlanta Olympic bombing and the TWA 800 crash, the investigation may go down a mistaken path for a time. However long it takes, these cases do get solved. For me, a Bostonian who grew up watching the end of so many Marathons, spent so many days hanging out in Copley Square, this attack feels personal. The eight year old boy who died was from the Dorchester neighborhood, 'Dot', where I lived when I was an eight year old boy. For that boy and the other victims, this case will be solved and the criminal terrorist will be apprehended."

Rightwing Extremist Groups Fear Scapegoating for Boston Bombs
4/16/2013 10:00:00 AM

Right wing extremist groups were generally slow to comment on yesterday's horrific Boston Marathon bombing, but many visitors to them expressed fear and anger that President Obama would eventually blame white superiority organizations and try to confiscate their guns.

Stormfront, the premier 'white pride' website, has the most populated forum on the attacks in Boston.? One user wondered, 'how is Obama going to exploit this for political gain?'?

Many more commenters expressed fear that 'the anti-gunners will use this to convince the sheeple [sic] that people that own guns are the same type of people that own bombs.'?

However, no Stormfront forum is complete without a reference to ZOG, or the Zionist Occupation Government.

'The brainwashed public will just buy anything and ZOG never wastes an opportunity to make us look bad,'? said one commenter. Said another, the U.S. government 'might try to pin it on white nationalism.'

One called white nationalists the 'ideal scapegoat."

In sharp contrast, the less militant Tea Party Patriot website, which describes itself as 'a national grassroots organization that exists to serve and support the thousands of local organizations and millions of grassroots Patriots throughout our nation," offered condolences.

"In light of today's horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon, Tea Party Patriots offers our prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families. We also thank the first responders who always bravely step up to protect their fellow Americans from potential harm."?

But a visitor to its web site commented, "This will only stop when we start lynching Mulsimes [sic] on sight!"

Other right wing sites --?,, hammerskins,,, -- had not commented on Boston by early morning Tuesday.

FBI Sleuths Investigating South Korean Spies Find an Agent from the North
4/15/2013 11:43:00 AM

North Korea's lone registered agent in the United States is a liquor salesman with curious ties to U.S.-based spies from Seoul, it turns out.

Call it a deep kimchi spy mystery.

According to a fascinating yarn by Talking Points Memo's Hunter Walker, Ill Woo Park is 'a 64-year-old South Korean national with legal permanent resident status in the United States,' to wit, Upper Manhattan.?

Park's business, Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S.A., Inc.'s main import is soju, a North Korean 'traditional liquor.'? Indeed, TPM reports Park's 'business was based on what he regularly described as extensive connections to the North Korean government.'

But here's the odd twist: FBI agents got onto Kim when they were investigating possible South Korean spies on American soil in 2007.? Park was arrested and brought to federal court for 'multiple counts of lying to FBI agents.'

According to TPM, during the court proceedings, 'FBI Special Agent William Smith described how Park had extensive relationships with suspected South Korean agents' and bragged 'to FBI agents that he was 'important to the North Korean government.'?

Special Agent Smith also said that during a conversation with a South Korean agent, Park admitted that "North Korean officials" asked him to bring "insecticides, anesthetics, and veterinary products" into the country on his next visit.

While Park plead guilty across the board, the court hearings elicited several suspicious reactions from both the North Korean and American governments.?

'At his trial, Park admitted to using his business trips to North Korea to obtain information for South Korean intelligence agencies. In spite of this, the reclusive North Korean government continued to allow him into the country and even deepened their relationships with his business' reported TPM.

TPM also states that the American 'government joined his attorneys in requesting for him to be allowed to make five trips to North Korea and China' while Park was on probation.? He also received an extremely light sentence.?

The maximum punishment was a 15-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.? In comparison, Park received an 18-month probation and $300 fine in 2008.? Not too shabby for a confessed foreign agent.

But soju aficionados fear not.? According to Bloomberg News, in August 2012, Park visited Pyongyang and extended his soju deal through 2016.'

CIA and Secret Warfare: When the Knives Came Out
4/13/2013 9:44:00 AM

The title of Mark Mazzetti's new book, "The Way of the Knife," is a little misleading. Sure, the badges of most special operations units feature a dagger, the symbol for stealth, if not hand-to-hand fighting. But in the post-9/11 shadow war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, it is presidents, prime ministers, warlords, kings and generals who wield the knives, stabbing each other in the back. Out in the field, at the tip of the spear, the weapons are spies, drones, algorithms and cash.

Read the rest of my review in the San Franciso Chronicle here.

New Cybersecurity Bill Stirs Privacy Concerns
4/11/2013 9:49:00 AM

Congress is taking another stab at protecting private industry from computer attacks. And again, it's stirring up fears about privacy.

The House Intelligence Committee overwhelmingly passed a new cybersecurity bill Wednesday aimed at increasing information-sharing between government agencies and private companies, reports CNN's Pam Benson.? The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) will increase protection for 'computer networks and intellectual property from cyber attacks.'

The two main frameworks of the bill are 'a voluntary system for companies to share threat information on their networks with the government in exchange for some liability protections' and a system for 'the government to share intelligence and other cyber threat information with industry,' Benson reported.

While the 'the private sector is restricted from using cyber security information for marketing or any other commercial purposes,' critics of the bill argue that private information will still become too public during the data sharing process.?

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. argue that CISPA 'should require companies to remove personal data not associated with cybersecurity before they share information with the government.'

The ACLU expressed its disappointment in the Bill.

'Companies can still share personal information with each other or the?government?[and]?military agencies like the?NSA?are still allowed to collect American Internet information,'?ACLU?legislative attorney?Michelle Richardson?told The Washington Times' Shaun Waterman.

Industry groups are also concerned with the possible negative effects of the bill.

The Software and Information Industry Association, which 'represents the big companies that make software, games and other digital content,' according to Waterman, released a statement communicating its fear that private information 'may be intertwined with cybersecurity information in ways that make it hard to remove. That was our concern.'

But former DHS official Paul Rosenzweig, blogging at Lawfare, said that the bill's particulars are continuing to evolve.

'I think it is fair to say that the bill is becoming increasingly more moderate as it goes through iterations,'?Rosenzwieg wrote. Its new stipulations include 'even more substantial privacy protective processes'

In addition, he said, 'it will eliminate the authorization to share cyber security information for non-cyber national security? purposes, leaving only sharing for cyber threats; to prevent death or serious bodily injury; or to protect children from child pornography.'

The measure, which passed 18-2, is scheduled for floor debate in a week, with access to private consumer information sure to be the most heated topic of debate.

Did Brennan Get a Free Pass from Mazzetti?
4/10/2013 1:23:00 PM

The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti is churning up a lot of positive buzz with his new book, 'The Way of the Knife,' excerpted in the Times this week.

But at least one critic who closely follows the shadow wars thinks current Obama administration officials, especially CIA Director John Brennan, the former White House counterterrorism advisor, is getting a free pass in Mazzetti's account of the CIA's drone war and other clandestine counterterrorism programs since 9/11.

Subtitled 'the C.I.A., a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth,' the book opens with the case of Raymond Davis, a CIA operative under State Department cover, who killed two threatening Pakistani men in a Lahore traffic jam in early 2011. ?A third Pakistani was struck and killed by a rescue team in American SUV sent to help Davis
The deaths and 'a series of misguided decisions in the days and weeks that followed' caused of the 'unraveling of the relationship' between the U.S. and Pakistan, Mazzetti writes.? Or more specifically, between the CIA and Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency.

Davis was sprung from jail only after the U.S. government paid 'blood money' to the victims' families, provoking huge anti-American demonstrations across Pakistan. Revelations of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas only exacerbated the situation.

The American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, thought the drone strikes might be doing more damage than good. He also thought Washington should come clean with Islamabad on Davis' identity.

He lost on both counts.

After the Davis incident, CIA Director 'Leon Panetta's relationship with General Pasha, the ISI chief, was poisoned,' Mazzetti writes, as was Panetta's relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who defended then Ambassador's Munter's plea to cooperate with the ISI.

Marcy Wheeler, of the empytwheel blog, blasts Mazzetti for leaving out some important names in this account.?

Mazzetti fails to discuss John Brennan and his role in the drone strikes in Pakistan, she complains.? He also does not mention that John Kerry accompanied a newly freed Davis on his flight home from Pakistan, she says.

Mazzetti's account of the controversy, she writes,? 'at least as described'is something that took place in the past with no direct involvement from the folks currently implementing Obama's national security plans (and giving CIA an exception from the rule book John Brennan developed).'

Mazzetti mentions Brennan by name on nine pages of his 327-page text, most prominently in his role of developing a drone strike to kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

CBP Steps Up Effort to Beat Polygraph Cheaters
4/10/2013 12:28:00 PM

As part of its effort to block criminals from getting jobs in border control, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has launched 'Operation Lie Busters,' to investigate applicants who use countermeasures to pass polygraph exams, according to, an organization that opposes the use of polygraphs in employment screening.

The previously unnamed investigation is currently targeting 10 applicants and, judging by its name, 'polygraph countermeasures are central, and not peripheral to the investigation,' speculates.

The use of polygraph testing is controversial and thought to be inaccurate by some critics and abusive by others.? However, the CBP has detected the use of countermeasure training in enough applicants to warrant an investigation into the countermeasures, even though the 'polygraph community has no coherent methodology for detecting them,' according to

Although it's questionable whether the CBP can identify the countermeasures when they are used, the agency is 'attempting to criminalize them,' said. This is especially interesting due to the 60% failure rate garnered by all CBP agents before official employment, as reported by Randal C. Archibold of the New York Times in 2010.

As points out, the report doesn't disclose 'how the applicants in question were identified as having received polygraph countermeasure training, who provided the training, and why the name of the operation was redacted and whether it could now be disclosed.'?

However, because the CBP identified a specific number of individuals uder investigaton, the government may have learned new skills to detect lie detector countermeasures, which could raise a whole slew of questions pertaining to the criminality of such practices.

CBP began rquiring polygraphs six months ago. According to the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, at least 200 job applicants have confessed to crimes, including murder, during the exams.

"Although thousands of applicants have undergone polygraphs, thousands more have been hired without the screening," CIR reported after obtaining files under the Freedom of Information Act.

Vatican Thought Pinochet Got a Bad Rap, 1973 Document Shows
4/10/2013 11:48:00 AM

One of the more provocative documents to emerge from Wikileaks' latest document dump is a 1973 State Department cable related to the U.S.-backed coup in Chile that ushered in 17 years of military rule.

The once-secret cable suggests Vatican support for the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who led the military coup that ousted the elected government of Dr. Salvador Allende.

According to Chile expert and Columbia University journalism professor John Dinges, the previously unknown cable, reporting on a conversation between a powerful Vatican official and an American diplomat in Rome, contradicts 'the accepted narrative that the Chilean hierarchy ... reacted early and strongly against the human rights abuses after the military coup.'

Questions about the Catholic Church's relations with Latin American military dictatorships have been revived with the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio,? archbishop of Buenos Aires during Argentina's "dirty war," as pope. ?

Dinges has strong doubts, however, about the information in the cable.

The cable, signed by U.S. Ambassador to Italy John Volpe, reported on the remarks of Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, the Vatican's deputy secretary of state, to Robert F. Illing, the American emissary to the Holy See.

Benelli and the Pope were concerned that the Chilean junta was getting a bad rap from 'communist propaganda,' not its own human rights abuses, the cable from Volpe said. (The cable was customarily composed in all capital letters.)



But one document does not make a case, cautioned Dinges, the author of 'The Condor Years' and other works that chronicle the Pinochet regime's state-sponsored assassinations and other human rights abuses.

'Documents like these have to be understood together with other sources, including other U.S. cables indicating the church was critical of the junta early on,' Dinges said in an email to SpyTalk. 'It should be noted that the source is an Italian Vatican official, who is relaying purported statements from church people in Chile with what appears to me to be an enthusiastic anticommunist gloss.'

Dinges, who is also director of a Santiago-based investigative center, Archivos Chile, suspects that the hardline anticommunist Benelli, whom TIME magazine once dubbed 'the Vatican Kissinger,' was speaking more for himself than church officials in Chile.

'I'm loath to believe the Chilean church was at any time pro-Pinochet,' Dinges told SpyTalk. Rather, 'the church accepted the military as the de facto government after the coup...'

Moreover,? he points out, Chilean church officials set up a powerful human rights organization, the Comite Pro Paz, predecessor of the legendary Vicaria de Solidaridad, "the most important defenders of human rights in Chile during the darkest days of the repression."


'If things were returning to normal and the reports of atrocities were unfounded," he says, "why would the church create a human rights organization to defend the victims of the military?'

The 1.7 million documents published by WikiLeaks this week were not, in fact, leaked, but assembled from cables, intelligence reports? and other U.S. foreign policy-related materials covering the period 1973-1976, held in the U.S. National Archives.

Hactivists Who Attacked CIA Plead Guilty
4/9/2013 10:51:00 AM
Three more members of the 'hacktivist' group LulzSec have pleaded guilty today to various computer hacking and 'hacktivism-related counts,' reports The Independent's Kevin Rawlinson.

The group admitted to cyber attacks against the CIA, the Arizona State Police and the UK's Serious Organized Crime Agency and National Health Service, among other entities in 2011 according to Rawlinson.?

The hackers also targeted the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, known for its 'God Hates Fags' protests.

LulzSec hacked into some of the targeted sites as well as using Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) on others.?

'DDoS, one of the most common attacks used by online activism groups, work by bombarding websites with traffic until they cannot deal with the weight and cease to load" explained Rawlinson.

The LulzSec defendants are young: the three who pled guilty today were 18, 20 and 26 years old. Their relatively unsophisticated means--they operated 'often from their bedrooms'- surprised many in the cyber security world.

Rawlinson also points out that the hackers already in custody did not act alone; they allegedly had ties to more infamous hacker groups including Anonymous and Internet Feds.

Chiquita Fighting Exposure of Links to Terror Groups
4/9/2013 10:40:00 AM
Banana colossus Chiquita Brands International is in hot water again for its past contracts with Colombian rebel organizations and right-wing paramilitary groups.

The company is now fighting against the disclosure of a portion of company papers it turned over to the SEC during an investigation from 1998 to 2004, reports the private National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Chiquita has filed a 'reverse' FOIA to prevent the Archive from gaining access to their internal records.

The Archive describes a "reverse' FOIA as 'a common lawsuit strategy, mostly used by contractors to prevent their cost-plus or profit-margin figures from being released by government agencies.'? This 'reverse' FOIA would block the SEC from releasing documentation of Chiquita's 'illegal payments to Colombian terrorist groups,' it said.

These papers showed? 'that Chiquita and its Colombian subsidiary had received tangible benefits' due to its payments to 'leftist insurgents and right-wing paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)," the Archive said.

Included in the papers are several documents that supposedly prove that Chiquita did in fact receive services from the AUC, including a memo 'indicating that Colombian insurgents provided security at some of Chiquita's plantations in Colombia' according to the Archive.

Chiquita is citing FOIA Exemption (7)(B), which would block the disclosure of the papers because they would 'would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication." Chiquita claims it is currently fighting? a civil law suit in Florida and a criminal investigation in Colombia.?

CIA Checking Out Indian Casinos?
4/9/2013 10:19:00 AM

Politicians in Goa, the western India port city, are dodging questions about the CIA's presence in the region.? According to the Mumbai web site FirstPost India, agency officials may be investigating possible ties between regional casinos and terrorist groups.

Goa, the former Portuguese colony on India's west coast, is the country's richest state and well known for gambling and high class casinos.

There were no specifics in the report, including the identity of any terrorist groups. Nor was any evidence produced for the CIA's alleged presence in Goa or an explanation for spy agency operations there.? But the CIA could well be focusing on the 'five offshore casinos' within Goa, the web site suggested.? Terrorist groups targeting the United States have been known to link with offshore businesses and banks, the agency figures, so why not offshore casinos?

Goa could also be a juicy target for Pakistan-based, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which trained ten of the commandos for the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

Goa's chief minister dodged a question from a legislator about the CIA's alleged presence.

'The matter falls in the domain of central government and hence cannot be replied (to),' Manohar Parrikar said in a written answer.

Spy Software Contractors Among Offshore Account Holders
4/5/2013 10:48:00 AM

The giant release of the financial records of the world's rich, fabulous and dangerous from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has provided a window into the secretive practice of offshore holdings and how they're speeding up the economic downfall in many? countries.

Among the many thousands of pages of data provided to ICIJ on a hard disk by an undisclosed financial insider were the names of dozens of wealthy and influential individuals who are connected 'to military or intelligence activities,' ICIJ's David Leigh, Harold Frayman and James Ball reported. These individuals used these offshore arms 'to distribute hundreds of millions of pounds in secret payments to get overseas arms contracts.'

Some of those contracts involved selling sophisticated electronic surveillance software to repressive governments.

One of the major names revealed was Louthean Nelson, owner of the Gamma Group, which is a self described 'government contractor to state intelligence and law enforcement agencies for ' high-quality surveillance vans." ?The Gamma Group is well known for their FinFisher technology, which is a code 'that disguises itself as a software update or an email attachment, which the target victim is unaware will transmit back all his or her transactions and keystrokes.'? The software has been run in Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Bahrain, according to the New York Times.

Nelson is also the anonymous owner of the Gamma Group International Ltd., an offshore business located in the British Virgin Islands, according to the ICIJ story, originally published by The Guardian newspaper.

Another individual, John Cunningham, a former BAE employee, used an offshore account in order to export helicopter drones, which he claimed were 'for purely civilian use.'? However Cunningham also claims his drone account was 'never activated.'

The report also named John Walbridge and Mauritz Le Roux, a former CIA agent and a former South African mercenary, respectively, who won lucrative contracts for providing body guards in Afghanistan and Iraq.? Le Roux stated their offshore arm was created "in case we need to start up operations in a country where we would need to have local partnerships" according to ICIJ.

Not surprisingly, many of the others named so far could not be reached for comment.

Whither the Drones?
4/4/2013 10:17:00 AM

What will happen to the American drone program as combat operations in Afghanistan wind down? Aram Roston wonders over at Defense News.

Some have presumably found at least a temporary home in Niger, where they will keep an eye on insurgents in next door Mali.

'But most of the Air Force's midsize UAVs have no home bases,' writes Roston, editor of Defense News' IC4ISR Journal. 'They've always been deployed.'

It's hard to imagine the drones would be retired, given the current state of play in Pakistan and elsewhere. But finding a suitable future conflict zone to deploy them may be more difficult than thought, Roston says.

The deployment of drones as part of the Asia 'pivot' will have to be more restrained than it ever was in the Middle East.?North Korea would undoubtedly take fly-bys as acts of aggression. Overall, Asian sovereignty issues, especially in the South China Sea, will make drone flights hazardous.

Latin America and Africa, however, may be more feasible. The U.S. 'Southern Command...wants more eyes on the drug trade, FARC rebels, Venezuela, Cuba and more,' Roston says.? AFRICOM could also see an expanded drone program, as in Niger.

But no matter where the UAVs go, their past will follow them. Political leaders risk popular uproars by accepting them.
'Reapers and Predators are in another class entirely because in the psyche of modern times,' Roston says. 'They are the heart of the targeted killing program.'

Bronze Star recipient, author, and investigative reporter, specializing in U.S. intelligence, defense, and foreign policy, Jeff Stein.

Stein was born in Philadelphia but grew up in New England, moving with his family to Maine in 1954. After attending school in Providence, Rhode Island, he moved to Hingham, Massachusetts, where he graduated from high school in 1962. Following high school, he attended Boston University, earning a bachelor's degree in American history. Stein then attended the University of California, Berkeley, for a master's degree in China studies. He entered the U.S. Army in 1968 and served with U.S. Army Intelligence as a case officer from 1968 to 1969. While stationed in Vietnam, he was awarded a Bronze Star.

Stein began his journalism career at a suburban Washington, D.C. weekly. He reported for NPR during its early years, while freelancing for major newspapers and magazines. In 1981, he briefly edited the Washington City Paper before founding his own paper, The Washington Weekly, which folded in 1984, after a year of publication. He then joined United Press International (UPI), rising to deputy foreign editor. During this period he also wrote his first book, The Vietnam Factbook, published in 1987. In 1992, Stein followed up with A Murder in Wartime, a book which detailed a Green Beret murder case that occurred during the Vietnam War. Time magazine lauded the book, calling it "...the best military morality tale since The Caine Mutiny... an exhaustively researched and heavily documented history of the Green Beret murder case."

In the 1990s, Stein began writing for eventually becoming a national security correspondent and breaking one of its biggest stories, an expose of the secret ties between the Ringling Bros. Circus and a former CIA official, Clair George. In 2000, Stein teamed with Khidhir Hamza, a scientist who worked on Saddam Hussein's nuclear program before defecting in 1994, to write Saddam's Bombmaker. The book garnered widespread and enthusiastic reviews, including one from former chief of the National Security Agency, Gen. William E. Odom, who, in The Washington Post, called it, "Not only stranger but frequently bloodier than fiction. The book should attract a wide range of readers, from foreign policy and security specialists to bored airplane passengers looking for a thriller." In 2002, Congressional Quarterly hired Stein to launch and edit CQ/Homeland Security which was nominated for an award in its first year of existence.

In 2005, Stein began writing a weekly column for CQ, entitled "SpyTalk", which evolved into a daily blog featuring original reporting and regular exclusives. In October 2006, Stein sparked an uproar when he reported in The New York Times that many top counter-terrorism officials and members of the House Intelligence Committee did not know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. Two months later in his column, Stein got the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to reveal the he knew little about Al Qaeda and the Middle East. In April 2009, Stein, writing for CQ Politics, broke the story that Representative Jane Harman had been wiretapped discussing aid for AIPAC defendants. The scandal brought additional attention to the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy and implicated a number of other figures.

In addition to his SpyTalk work, Stein continues to write op-ed pieces and book reviews for The New York Times and The Washington Post. Through the years, he has also written for a wide range of other publications, including Esquire, Vanity Fair, GQ, Playboy, The New Republic, The Nation and The Christian Science Monitor. He also appears on CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NPR and BBC, among others, to comment on U.S. national security issues.

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