Trump to tighten grip on Intelligence agencies following ‘leaks’.

 Stephen A. Feinberg, right, a founder of Cerberus Capital Management, at the Capitol in December 2008. He is said to be in talks for a White House role examining the country’s intelligence agencies. Credit Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times


Stephen A. Feinberg, right, a founder of Cerberus Capital Management, at the Capitol in December 2008. He is said to be in talks for a White House role examining the country’s intelligence agencies. Credit Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.

The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump blamed leaks from the intelligence community for the departure of Michael T. Flynn, his national security adviser, whose resignation he requested.

There has been no announcement of Mr. Feinberg’s job, which would be based in the White House, but he recently told his company’s shareholders that he is in discussions to join the Trump administration. He is a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council.

Mr. Feinberg, who has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, declined to comment on his possible position. The White House, which is still working out the details of the intelligence review, also would not comment.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner, according to current and former intelligence officials and Republican lawmakers, had at one point considered Mr. Feinberg for either director of national intelligence or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, a role that is normally reserved for career intelligence officers, not friends of the president. Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.

On an array of issues — including the Iran nuclear deal, the utility of NATO, and how best to combat Islamist militancy — much of the information and analysis produced by American intelligence agencies contradicts the policy positions of the new administration. The divide is starkest when it comes to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised while dismissing American intelligence assessments that Moscow sought to promote his own candidacy.

The last time an outsider with no intelligence experience took the job was in the early days of the Reagan administration, when Max Hugel, a businessman who had worked on Mr. Reagan’s campaign, was named to run the spy service. His tenure at the C.I.A. was marked by turmoil and questions about the politicization of the agency. He was forced to resign after six months, amid accusations about his past business dealings. (He later won a libel case against the two brothers who made the accusations.)

Even the prospect that Mr. Feinberg may lead a review for the White House has raised concerns in the intelligence community.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Trump has appointed Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, to run the C.I.A., and former Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, to be the director of national intelligence (he is still awaiting confirmation). Both were the preferred choices of the Republican congressional leadership and Vice President Mike Pence and had no close or longstanding ties to Mr. Trump. In fact, they each endorsed Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for president during the 2016 Republican primaries.

Mr. Coats is especially angry at what he sees as a move by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner to sideline him before he is even confirmed, according to current and former officials. He believes the review would impinge on a central part of his role as the director of national intelligence and fears that if Mr. Feinberg were working at the White House, he could quickly become a dominant voice on intelligence matters.

Read more at the New York Times and The Guardian.

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‘Fearful’ national security officials prepare for major shift in US policy

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A US intelligence officer operating in a dangerous part of the world prepared this week for Donald Trump’s presidency by making a pact with a colleague: they resolved to disobey any order to commit torture.

The two officers’ pledge reflects a wider debate within the national security bureaucracy, as some officials – concerned by Trump’s authoritarian inclinations – debate whether to quit in protest at his electoral victory or to remain at their post in the hope of checking impulses they consider dangerous.

During his election campaign, the president-elect mooted a string of controversial measures, any one of which would signify a major shift in US policy: reviving the use of torture, targeting the families of terrorism suspects, mass deportations, a ban on Muslims entering the US, expanding domestic surveillance, the indefinite detention of American terror suspects, bombing “the shit” out of the Islamic State.

Officials in the US military, intelligence services, diplomatic corps and federal law enforcement have told the Guardian that Trump’s suggestions represent such a departure from the norms of American governance that they are contemplating internal resistance or a career change.

One source said he was “fearful” of Trump in a way he has never been of an American national security figure, out of concern that Trump does not understand the “tertiary consequences” of decision-making on a global stage.

Speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal, all the officials interviewed by the Guardian cautioned that they spoke only for themselves.

Some said their anxiety over Trump was not shared by co-workers, particularly younger ones, who appreciate what one called Trump’s “bluntness”.

Surveys of the US military show substantial support for Trump, which also exists within the FBI. The federal immigration agents’ union endorsed Trump.

Other officials said they believed that the realities of office would force Trump to moderate his positions, or expressed confidence that the national security bureaucracy was sufficiently resilient to check presidential overreach.

While Congress passed a law in 2015 designed to prevent a return to CIA torture, human rights activists have long observed that torture was illegal before 9/11.

But several wondered if they would be able to serve in a Trump administration –particularly if instructed to transgress moral or legal boundaries meant to protect civil rights and liberties.

The public faces of national policy are the cabinet secretaries, agency chiefs and their immediate deputies. Below them are the political appointees who comprise the senior ranks of government.

Their choices are made for them during inauguration and the transition of power: they leave to make room for the picks made by the election’s victor.

But those tasked with implementing policy are in no such position.

Critical to the functions of the government’s most life-or-death enterprises, they are formally apolitical and provide expertise and continuity across administrations.

Several of those who spoke to the Guardian described themselves as reeling from an electoral outcome they did not anticipate and the imminent arrival of a president they considered manifestly unqualified.

“For those who expected Hillary to win, it’s shock and awe, so to speak,” one US official said.

Read the complete article, and view videos, on The Guardian web site here.

How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages

Skype worked with intelligence agencies last year to allow Prism to collect video and audio conversations. Photograph: Patrick Sinkel/AP

Skype worked with intelligence agencies last year to allow Prism to collect video and audio conversations. Photograph: Patrick Sinkel/AP

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The documents show that:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.

Read the full article on The Guardian.

Argo film rewrites history of Iran hostage saga

Movies have always been used for propaganda and some movies, like Argo, also rewrite history. It’s too bad so much distorted truth has to occur in a movie like Argo, in which Ben Affleck plays a CIA agent. According to President Jimmy Carter, “Tony Mendez, which is the CIA character that Ben Affleck played, was just in Iran for a day and a half,”. Let’s now set the truth to the fictionalized ‘Argo’ movie which rewrote history.

During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 it wasn’t only the mighty and brave CIA valiantly rescuing Americans, but that is how history has been rewritten for the screen. There would have been no Americans to rescue in the first place if a Canadian hadn’t secreted them from harm.

Ken Taylor was the Canadian Ambassador in Iran who kept the Americans hidden at the embassy in Tehran and facilitated the escape. He became a hero in Canada and the United States after.

On November 4, 1979, 54 hostages were seized when a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American Embassy in Tehran. The episode reached a climax when, after failed attempts to negotiate a release, the United States military attempted a rescue operation off the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier. On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw resulted in a failed mission, the deaths of eight American servicemen, one Iranian civilian, and the destruction of two aircraft.

On the day the militants seized the American Embassy six American diplomats evaded capture and remained in hiding at the home of Canadian diplomat John Sheardown, under the protection of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.

In late 1979 the Canadian Government secretly issued an Order In Council allowing Canadian passports to be issued to some American citizens so that they could escape.

In cooperation with the CIA who used the cover story of a film project, two CIA agents and the six American diplomats boarded a Swissair flight to Zurich, Switzerland, on January 28, 1980. Their escape and rescue from Iran has become known as the “Canadian Caper”.

The Americans were safely hidden by Canadians for almost 4 months, from November 4, 1979 until January 28, 1980. Tony Mendez and the CIA were in Iran for 1 1/2 days.

The “caper” involved CIA agents (Tony Mendez and a man known as “Julio”) joining the six diplomats to form a fake film crew made up of six Canadians, one Irishman and one Latin American who were finished scouting for an appropriate location to shoot a scene for the notional sci-fi film Argo.

Early in the morning on Monday, January 28, 1980, Mendez, “Julio”, and the six American diplomats, traveling with real Canadian passports and forged entry documents, made it easily through security at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport.

After a short delay because of mechanical difficulties with the jet airliner, the group of eight boarded Swissair flight 363 for Zurich, Switzerland. By coincidence, the aircraft was named Aargau, after the Aargau canton in northern Switzerland.

Upon landing in Zurich, the six diplomats were taken by CIA operatives to a mountain lodge safe house for the night. There, they were told that, for diplomatic purposes, they would not be able to talk to the press, and that they would be kept hidden in a secret location in Florida until the hostage situation was resolved.

Mendez and Julio continued to Frankfurt, Germany, where Mendez wrote his after-action report. The next day, the story broke in Montreal, written by Jean Pelletier for La Presse; it was quickly picked up by the international press.

The six diplomats were driven by the CIA from Switzerland to Ramstein Air Force Base in West Germany to be flown across the Atlantic to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

After the six American guests left on Monday, January 28, the Canadian embassy was closed that same day, with Taylor and the remaining staff returning to Canada. The six Americans arrived home on January 30, 1980.

The six rescued American diplomats:

Robert Anders, 54 – Consular officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 – Consular officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 – Consular assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 – Agricultural attaché
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 – Consular officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 – Consular assistant

Ambassador Taylor, Sheardown, and their wives, Patricia Taylor and Zena Sheardown, along with embassy staff members Mary Catherine O’Flaherty, Roger Lucy, and Laverna Dollimore were appointed to the Order of Canada, Canada’s second highest civilian award.

Zena Sheardown, a Guyanese-born British subject, would normally have been ineligible, but was awarded the membership on an honorary basis, due to the intervention of Flora MacDonald.

Taylor was subsequently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress for his assistance to the United States of America.

Pelletier, then the Washington correspondent to La Presse, had uncovered some of the facts of the diplomat situation before January 28, 1980, but he did not publish the story in order to preserve the safety of those involved, despite the considerable news value to the paper and writer.

Several other news organizations were also in possession of some elements of the story. Pelletier’s article ran on January 29 as soon as he knew the hostages had left Iran, but by exposing the operation, the story demolished plans by the US to secretly house the six Americans in Florida while the hostage drama continued.

The Argo story was blown, but the CIA role was kept secret by both the US and Canadian governments at the time for the safety of the remaining hostages; its full involvement was not revealed until 1997.

Officially, Jimmy Carter had maintained for negotiation purposes that all of the missing American diplomats were held hostage, so the rescue came as a complete surprise to the public.

American gratitude for the Canadian rescue effort was displayed widely and by numerous American television personalities and ordinary people alike, with Taylor a particular focus of attention. The Canadian flag was flown across the US, along with “Thank You” billboards.

The 2012 film Argo is a fictionalized cinematic representation based on the ‘Canadian Caper’ operation.

Viewing ‘Argo’ one should remember the adage ‘Don’t believe everything you see’.