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THE FSB and SIGINT: Absolute Power at Home and Abroad

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The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) should easily be considered one of the most influential and powerful intelligence organizations in the world today. Its primary functions and roles include: law enforcement, counterintelligence, domestic surveillance, and internal intelligence functions at the national level.

These roles mirror many of the functions assigned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US (FBI). However, while many of these functions would put the FSB squarely in the realm of law enforcement instead of security or intelligence, the FSB also has mission responsibilities that organizations such as the FBI do not. The most significant being the mission of signals exploitation (SIGINT). This article focuses on the SIGINT capability of the FSB and its threat to US political, economic, and diplomatic policies as well as the threat in the new environment of cyber espionage.

Initially an internally focused organization, the FSB threat profile changed in 2003 when, under Presidential Edict No. 314, the missions and authorities of the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) were transferred to the FSB. This meant the FSB would now have both the resources and authorities for SIGINT collection against its adversaries and information assurance for all Russian government information systems. This transition established the FSB as a much larger player in the intelligence exploitation community and a larger threat to US interests. Most Western intelligence services separate the responsibilities and missions of SIGINT to a single intelligence organization, like the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US, which has only that authority. Other intelligence services handle matters such as counterintelligence and military-related intelligence. This is not the case with the FSB, which after Presidential Edict No. 314 controls elements of all major aspects and disciplines of intelligence, essentially giving it both unfettered access to collected intelligence as well as the ability to potentially restrict other Russian organizations from accessing the collected data. What exists is a single intelligence service with the capabilities to conduct human intelligence, counter-intelligence, law enforcement, border security, counter-surveillance, and signals collections. This represents a significant amount of authority and global reach that cannot be compared to any one intelligence service within the US or most other modern developed states. With the transition of SIGINT responsibilities, increased authority on border security, and cryptographic responsibilities to the FSB, the comparison of it to the US Intelligence Community also transitioned. Its domestic protection roles still most closely align with the FBI, but its SIGINT responsibilities mirror that of the National Security Agency (NSA), while the border security functions are more akin to the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) or even Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

On top of all of this, the FSB has become increasingly connected to all issues cyber as well. The world continues to become more interconnected. The internet has become an integral part of our daily lives and, for some, even a necessity. It supports everything from e-commerce to sensitive governmental correspondence. So when a country’s intelligence service inserts itself into business transactions, there becomes an increased risk that sensitive data could be syphoned off and used to support both commercial and national intelligence interests at home and abroad. Even though the Russian IT registration requirement is only for private companies operating within Russia, this means little in the interconnected world of the internet where data crosses many geographical boundaries between transmitter and receiver. The internet is a medium susceptible to signals collection just like any other and when countries or intelligence services have access to all internet-based traffic that falls within their borders, then that threat is not only very real but actually amplified.

One example of this threat is the Russian SORM program. SORM, or System for Ensuring Investigated Activity, is a mechanism that permits the FSB to monitor all phone and internet traffic coming in and out of the Russian Federation. While arguments are that this program is a law enforcement and internal security tool, the FSB still remains an intelligence service with a mission set that goes beyond internal security and law enforcement. It is worth noting that until a Russian Supreme Court ruling was handed down in late 2000, the FSB was under no obligation to inform Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that agents were accessing the system. The work undertaken by the FSB to support signals exploitation is not just limited to Russian companies, therefore, but extends to international entities with a presence in the Russian Federation.

On 11 April 2011, for example, a government source told the Interfax news agency that the FSB was not proposing a ban on Gmail, Skype or Hotmail in Russia. The FSB expert speaking at this meeting only expressed concerns that a number of those servers provide services outside of the national legal framework. The inferred concern was that because these companies utilize encryption for securing the communications of users, and none of them are directly based in Russia, the FSB requirement under SORM may not be implemented properly. It is interesting that the FSB would take the time for an interview to highlight its effort to find a solution to make the functioning of these services on Russian territory ‘comply’ with national laws. This statement, while perhaps innocuous on the surface, speaks to the potential level of penetration the FSB can gain into all aspects of communications, both traditional and emerging.

On 8 June 2011 Microsoft Russia made a statement with respect to the FSB and the on-line communications service Skype. In a statement carried by the Russian Federal Security Service-owned but supposedly editorially-independent Russian news agency Ekho Moskvy, Microsoft denied claims it had provided the FSB with encryption algorithms for the internet service. It did, however, admit that the source code for the program was provided. With its charter to protect and monitor cryptographic systems for the Russian government, the FSB has access to those individuals who both create and decipher cryptographic algorithms as part of the newly transferred FAPSI functions. With these vast resources, it is not a giant leap of logic to think the FSB will be sorely tempted to conduct eavesdropping on any entity it wishes, without the support of said company, as long as a suitable connection to ‘national security’ is found.  

These two examples are a sample of how cyber seems to be a new focus of FSB SIGINT collection efforts. And while, for now, they focus solely on what has occurred within Russian territory, it is important to note the FSB has recognized links in over 80 countries and formal offices in at least 18 of them. This level of global reach and interaction means its SIGINT mission can be transferred anywhere the FSB maintains a presence. As these capabilities are deployed, they provide the FSB with a larger SIGINT capability than most intelligence agencies around the world. The FSB of course formally declares that it honors all international treaties and pursues only legitimate inquiries that hold potential harm to the sovereign interests and national security of the Russian Federation. The problem, of course, is just how fungible those sovereign interests might be over time and how relevant the old adage about absolute power corrupting absolutely might become.

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Afghan Zarqawi is shot dead in Panjsher valley of Afghanistan

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According to intelligence information, the leading Taliban commander Maulvi Habibullah Sheeran, who was known as Zarqawi, a resident of Zhrhai District, Kandahar Province, in the southwestern zone of the Taliban was killed in Panjsher battle.

Meantime, the intelligence report indicates, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, the general military officer of Panjshir and Andrab and the deputy of the Ministry of National Defense, was injured in Panjshir on Friday, September 16 at 3:25 p.m.

Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, who is considered one of the leading and influential war commanders in the southwest zone of the Taliban, has the support of about 4,000 low-ranking and high-ranking Taliban fighters. He is one of the Taliban military commanders who, during the first mobilization of the Taliban, formed the Taliban group with the support of Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, the founder of the Taliban, and attracted hundreds of young men from Helmand province to the Taliban group.

When the Taliban came to power for the second time in Afghanistan, due to internal differences among the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir left the Taliban for a short time and went to his native Kajki district of Helmand province. However, due to the many efforts of the Taliban, especially Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir’s assistant and the current head of security of presidential palace  Mullah Mutaullah Mubarak, He joined the Taliban again and was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Taliban leaders made more efforts to reunite Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir with the Taliban, because he was an influential military leader, and on the other hand, Taliban leaders were receiving reports that Mullah Qayyum Zakir wants to join ISIS against Taliban. Nevertheless, when he joined with the Taliban leaders for the second time, he was assigned the position of Deputy Minister of Defense, So, for a period, he cooperated with the Minister of Defense Maulvi Yaqoub as a military advisor in the Ministry of Defense.

 When the rumors of the fall of the northern part of Afghanistan were spread and the fighting between the NRF or the National Resistance Front and the Taliban in Panjshir and Andrab intensified, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, based on the special permission of Sheikh Haibatullah, Appointed General Military Officer of Northern Afghanistan. In addition, from September 9, under his leadership, a special military operation named Al-Fath began in Panjshir and Andarabs to clear and liberate northern Afghanistan from the fighters of the National Resistance Front.

As a result of the operation, from September 9th to September 16th, dozens of NRF fighters were also killed but the casualties of Taliban fighters are methodically shown below, although scores of Taliban fighters were destroyed.

  • The bodies of 60 to 70 Taliban fighters who were killed in the battle of Panjshir have been transferred to Uruzgan province.
  •  The dead bodies of 50 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kandahar Province.
  • The dead bodies of 33 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Helmand Province.
  •  The dead bodies of 22 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Ghor Province.
  • The dead bodies of 11 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Takhar province.
  • The dead bodies of 6 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kunduz Chahar Dara.
  •  The dead bodies of 12 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Zabul province.
  • The dead bodies of nine Taliban fighters have been transferred to Wardag Province.
  • The dead bodies of 10 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Dandi Ghori in Baghlan province.  

Last Friday, September 16, in the bloody battle, Mullah Qayyum Zakir, the military officer in charge of Panjshir and Andrab, was seriously injured and eight of his bodyguards, who were residents of Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, were killed. Mullah Qayyum Zakir was transferred to the 400-bed hospital in Kabul at 10 o’clock in the evening on September 16, and former Taliban doctor Atiqullah was invited to Kabul from Al-Khair Hospital of Balochistan province of Pakistan for treatment.

There is a bloody war going on in the north of Afghanistan and around 300 al-Fatih forces are going to Panjshir from Kabul tonight and may reach tomorrow. Meanwhile, in Vienna, the plan for the formation of a new military and political movement was announced in a three-day meeting of the anti-Taliban political officials of the former government of Afghanistan. Moreover, based on that military plan, after dividing Afghanistan into five major parts, the political and military leaders of each zone will start preparing their organizations against the Taliban, and they will use such political and military tactics as the Taliban used against the government of the Republic of Afghanistan during the last 20 years of resistance.

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U.S. Finally Admits Ukraine Bombs Zaporizhzhia’s Nuclear Power Plant

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The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Ⓒ IAEA

Unnamed American officials, according to the New York Times, have admitted that the explosives fired against Ukraine’s nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia have been fired against the plant by Ukraine’s Government, not by Russia’s Government, and furthermore these officials make clear that Ukraine’s attacks against the plant are a key part of Ukraine’s plan to win its U.S.-backed-and-advised war against Russia, on the battlefields of Ukraine, using Ukrainian soldiers.

Zaporizhzhia is a city in Ukraine that is in Russian-controlled territory, and Ukraine’s strategy is to destroy the ability of the plant to function, so that areas controlled by Russia will no longer be able to benefit from that plant’s electrical-power output. The United States Government helped Ukraine’s Government to come up with this plan, according to the New York Times.

This information was buried by the Times, 85% of the way down a 1,600-word news-report they published on September 13th, titled “The Critical Moment Behind Ukraine’s Rapid Advance”, in which it stated that, “Eventually, Ukrainian officials believe their long-term success requires progress on the original goals in the discarded strategy, including recapturing the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, cutting off Russian forces in Mariupol and pushing Russian forces in Kherson back across the Dnipro River, American officials said.” 

When IAEA inspectors arrived at that plant on September 1st, after a lengthy period of trying to get there to inspect it but which was blocked by Ukraine’s Government, and the IAEA started delivering reports regarding what they were finding at the plant, no mention has, as-of yet, been made concerning which of the two warring sides has been firing those bombs into the plant. Even when the IAEA headlined on September 9th “Director General’s Statement on Serious Situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant”, and reported that the plant’s ability to operate “has been destroyed by shelling of the switchyard at the city’s thermal power plant, leading to a complete power black-out in” the entire region, and that “This is completely unacceptable. It cannot stand.”, and closed by saying they “urgently call for the immediate cessation of all shelling in the entire area,” no mention was made as to which of the two sides was shooting into the plant in order to disable it, and which of the two sides was firing out from the plant in order to protect it against that incoming fire. Previously known was only that the city of Zaporizhzhia has been and is under Russian control ever since March 4th. Consequently, all news-media and reporters have known that (since Russia was inside and Ukraine was outside) Russia has been defending the plant and Ukraine has been attacking it, but until “American officials” let slip, in this news-report, the fact that this has indeed been the case there, no Western news-medium has previously published this fact — not even buried it in a news-report.  

So, although nothing in this regard may yet be considered to be official, or neutral, or free of fear or of actual intent to lie, there finally is, at the very least, buried in that news-report from the New York Times, a statement that is sourced to “American officials,” asserting that this is the case, and the Times also lets slip there that this “shelling” of that plant is an important part of the joint U.S.-Ukraine master-plan to defeat Russia in Ukraine. It is part of the same master-plan, which the U.S. Government recommended to Ukraine’s Government, and which also included the recent successful retaking by Ukraine of Russian-controlled land near the major Ukrainian city of Kharkov, which city’s recapture by Ukraine is also included in the master-plan. Both operations — the shelling of the nuclear power plant, and the recapture of that land near Kharkov — were parts of that master-plan, according to the New York Times.

The Times report asserts that

Long reluctant to share details of their plans, the Ukrainian commanders started opening up more to American and British intelligence officials and seeking advice. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, spoke multiple times about the planning for the counteroffensive, according to a senior administration official. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior Ukrainian military leaders regularly discussed intelligence and military support.

And in Kyiv, Ukrainian and British military officials continued working together while the new American defense attaché, Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, began having daily sessions with Ukraine’s top officers.

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The US over the Horizon Counterterrorism War from Pakistan

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In the face of the growing political and security crisis caused by China in East Asia, the US is trying to expand its military presence in South Asian countries and use Pakistan’s air space geo-political and counterterrorism objectives.  When the Afghan Taliban came to power in Afghanistan for the second time on August 15, 2021, and on August 30, the 20-year military presence of the United States in Afghanistan came to end completely, while undermining the military and political presence of the United States not only in South Asia but also in the Middle East.

 Furthermore, in East Asia, the possibility of an attack on Taiwan by China is also increasing day to day, hence, the United States prioritize the acquisition of an air base at a strategic point in South Asia in coordination with the Pakistani army and the ISI network in Pakistan. In order to get an airport at a point that has easy access to the border areas of three countries such as China, Afghanistan and Iran. Thus, after August 15, 2021, the United States once again expanded military and diplomatic relations with Pakistan in the region by overthrowing the government of the pro-Sino-Russia party of PTI in Pakistan.

Moreover, strategic communication between the high-ranking military and political officials of both countries, namely Pakistan and the United States have started to meet in relation to the security of the region, especially Afghanistan. The most important visit of high-ranking US officials to South Asia was the visit of William Burns, the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, in early September 2021.  Mr. Burns agreed with India and Pakistan on such a security mechanism for the region so that America can once again expand its surveillance and military presence in the region.

 Based on that security mechanism, three areas have been marked so that the United States can deploy its drones and naval forces in those areas such as Ladakh, a border region that has been troubled between India and China for years, Shamsi Airport in Pakistan, which is located in Balochistan, and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, which is currently under the control of the Afghan Taliban.

 From these three areas, number of different types of American unmanned aerial vehicles, including naval forces have been transferred to Pakistan’s Baluchistan Shamsi Airport such as Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance and General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper attack drones. India is still in an uncertain position regarding military cooperation with the United States, and recently, both China and India, in coordination with the defense ministries, have removed soldiers from the Ladakh region.

However, if China does not interfere with the naval forces in the southern port of Sri Lanka, Hambantota, or face to the military development in Sri Lanka, So, India will not delay to give a military base to the US Navy in the Ladakh region. In addition, the third point was Afghanistan, however, several times after August 30, American officials tried to deploy their military forces in Afghanistan under the pretext of protecting the American embassy in Afghanistan through the Taliban’s Doha office in Doha. Nevertheless, it seems that their efforts have failed or the Afghan Taliban have backed away from this move after expanding relations with the Eastern Alliance.

On August 7, 2022, eight days after the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, Pakistan handed over Shamsi Airport to the CIA for the second time.  In return, some of Pakistan’s requests were accepted by the US, which will gradually be adopted into practice.  

-Removing the name of Pakistan from the blacklist of cooperation with terrorist groups.

-forcing the International Monetary Fund or IMF to lend to Pakistan, Agreement on comprehensive military assistance with the Pakistan Army.

-in addition to other material and military assistance.

 From the Shamsi Airbase, America can easily destroy its targets inside Afghanistan besides; it can monitor the border area of ​​Iran and China as well.

Why Shamsi airbase matters?

Pakistan’s Shamsi Airport, located in Washuk, Balochistan, is only 190 km away from the Durand Line, from where American drones can easily monitor Afghanistan entirely, the border areas of Iran and China and the port of Gwadar. Shamsi Airport, located at an altitude of 340 meters above sea level, has a 3012 meter long runway of plane. This airport was built in 1992 by the United Arab Emirates in the name of bird hunting, which was then controlled by the Americans from 2001 to 2011. But when relations between American forces and Pakistan became strained in November 2011, Pakistan ordered American forces to withdraw from Shamsi Airport. Now, once again, this airport has been handed over to the American forces under the leadership of the CIA, to monitor Afghanistan, Iran and East Asia from here.

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