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The Grand Cyber Spy Game: Russia, America, and China Stealing the World One Byte at a Time

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Dr. Matthew Crosston & Anonymous(*)

Every month another story of cybertheft linked to China or Russia emerges. Recent data breaches at Target, United Airlines, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and OPM have been linked back to Russia, while theft of key technology across major Department of Defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and US government laboratories have been linked to China.

Neither China nor Russia’s government formally admit to leveraging the internet to steal secrets from other countries but hacks have been linked directly to their intelligence services’ respective buildings or individuals known to be under governmental influence. International cyber incidents in Ukraine, Georgia, and Estonia have all been apparently linked back to Russia while the Canadian government recently set up domestic cyber-protection programs after several major corporations were hacked by Chinese intelligence. The US government struggles on how to approach these cyber intrusions. Should they be ignored so that other foreign policy initiatives can move forward? Are these initiatives acts of war or a new method of state gamesmanship? Do these collections of vast amounts of information count as high treason/espionage or simple economic theft? Environmental negotiations just about broke down several years ago when President Obama called out China for hacking several governmental systems during the negotiations. What does all of this signify as Russia and China become more important strategic world partners, while still at least semi-maintaining long-held intelligence and military adversarial attitudes toward the US? Welcome to the REAL cyber era, where multiple players try to steal the world one byte at a time while pretending to do nothing of the sort.

The Chinese, American, and Russian intelligence services have no issue launching clandestine internet attacks to pursue what they all consider to be legitimate national security and foreign policy objectives. Sometimes the information collected is economic, directed against or about important corporations; other times the information is military and political. In all cases the information is highly strategic. While it is true that the information the Russian and Chinese intelligence services are providing to their respective policymakers is much broader in scope than the CIA or US Department of Defense, and is arguably much more domestically invasive than the FBI or DEA, both Russia and China have successfully started campaigns questioning the ‘purity of purpose’ within American intelligence given the details of the Snowden scandal. All of which begs questions: should American intelligence maneuvers match Chinese and Russian cyber precedence? Is the American public aversion to cyber collection programs really just a front for a private philosophy that already rivals China and Russia? Is there something fundamentally important for states to consider in this style vs. substance cyber spy debate?

Crucial differences in intelligence organizational culture and mission make figuring these questions out quite difficult. While the United States has been quick to leverage open-source collection for its own programs, it has supposedly been hesitant to execute the power of its cyber abilities in invasive, offensive, global scenarios (although this consideration is now being heavily debated in the classified sector and some accuse it of already transpiring). This article will attempt to determine if Chinese and Russian intelligence services have gained a tactical advantage over the United States because of a political and bureaucratic blind spot, or if the United States intelligence collection culture is different only at the superficial level and is largely the same as its rivals in terms of true cyber substance.

The first important aspect in understanding the Grand Cyber Game is to understand how the Russian, Chinese, and US intelligence communities are structured. The United States is known for the ‘big brothers’ of its IC, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and National Security Agency (NSA). However, there are actually 17 members of the US Intelligence Community. Some of these include intelligence offices for each branch of the US military, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Drug Enforcement Administration, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The first five use intelligence collection as part of a law enforcement mission, while the NSA, NRO, and NGA all harvest data and imagery collection. Traditionally, the CIA operates overseas and cultivates human sources while conducting clandestine operations. The FBI traditionally manages counterterrorism operations domestically, provides investigation support overseas when American citizens are involved, and acts under an enforcement jurisdiction to maintain the law. The NSA was established to provide cryptologic services and to protect US information systems and signals intelligence. It supports military customers, national policymakers, and counterterrorism and counter-intelligence communities under the Department of Defense. However, in a post-9/11 world, these explicitly defined roles have become more blurred and opaque as global travel and transnational collections are intensely complicated by the internet.

Conversely, modern Chinese intelligence services have always had domestic and international missions intertwined. China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) was formed in 1954 as a domestic law enforcement agency. It managed criminal investigations, security protection, public information network security, traffic control, legal affairs, counter-terrorism, drug control, and other anti-smuggling and anti-corruption duties. In 1983, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) was established as the formal intelligence and security agency of China for non-military areas of interests. It has the same authority to arrest or detain people as the MPS with a nearly identical oversight mission by the courts, but it is also a separate, parallel network to the MPS. The MSS mission is to ensure “the security of the state through effective measures against enemy agents, spies, and counter-revolutionary activities designed to sabotage or overthrow China’s socialist system.” Similar to the CIA, the MSS gathers foreign intelligence from targets in various countries overseas while the MPS gathers information domestically to protect against domestic terrorism and political coups. Both heavily rely on cyber collection.

Russia operates with three principal intelligence services. The SVR focuses on foreign intelligence collection, but mainly with civilian affairs. It is formally responsible for intelligence and espionage activities outside the Russian Federation. The GRU is the main foreign military intelligence directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. It is Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency, deploying at least six times as many agents as the formal KGB successor, the SVR. The FSB operates in theory only across the former Soviet Republics and domestically, but having had its operational portfolio increased in 2003 to include the Border Guard Service and the Federal Agency of Government Communication and Information. The three intelligence services often overlap and sometimes compete against one another in the recruitment and collection of intelligence sources. Russia also established an Anti-Terrorist Center that falls under full control of the FSB. The Center’s mandate was to create a database for intelligence sharing among the security services of all members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Although the SVR has promised not to spy within CIS territories, the FSB has not. As such, it has become the de facto leading intelligence service for foreign collection activities for Russia. Interestingly, Russia has often turned a blind eye to Central Asian intelligence service activity within its borders, when Central Asian leaders are making moves against so-called political enemies (these moves are usually abductions back to Central Asia for detainment). These activities have included both the Chinese MSS and MSP. In 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was established by China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, to work together against terrorism, separatism, and extremism. They established their own Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) that became the mechanism of choice for carrying out abductions across national boundaries, outside of standard judicial procedures. RATS operations have been compared to the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition and allow members to detain suspects in the six participating states outside of any rule of law. The members’ operators are not subject to criminal liability and they are immune from arrest and detention within the six states.

The reality is, on an international level, the intelligence services of all three nations operate with remarkably similar mission goals and objectives: they wish to protect the national interests of their respective states and garner advantages for said states via the acquisition of important information. While Hollywood has often focused on the political deviance and violence of intelligence missions around the world, the less exciting reality is that intelligence is more often utilized simply for political leverage. On the domestic level, the United States has long-held the moral superiority card against rivals like Russia and China, largely based on the democratic system in America supposedly being more altruistic and legally-minded than the so-called autocratic-type regimes in Beijing and Moscow. Snowden and other details in the past several years have started to make some at least wonder how much that moralism is built upon a foundation of sand and not stone. Finally, the stylistic aspect of intelligence public relations is significantly different between the three: the US decidedly tries to maintain an air of secrecy and deniability over just about everything its Intelligence Community does or needs to do. Russia and China, while revealing no secrets, tend to be a bit more unabashed about the role and necessity intelligence plays for the furthering of state power and do not fear making public statements to that effect anywhere, anytime. For them, therefore, the only difference between the three great players in the Grand Cyber Spy Game is the costuming and marketing of their respective goals, but NOT the ploys, initiatives, and overall desires. When it comes to winning, it seems all three are set and determined to virtually steal, that is, ‘obtain’ as much as possible. The Grand Cyber Spy Game demands no less.

(*) Anonymous is currently a graduate student in International Security and Intelligence Studies at Bellevue University and works within the US governmental system. The opinions expressed are strictly personal and do not reflect a formal endorsement of or by the United States’ government and/or Intelligence Community.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Senior Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University and was just named the future Co-Editor of the seminal International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. His work is catalogued at: https://brown.academia.edu/ProfMatthewCrosston/Analytics

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The China/Russia Space Threat: Is Star Wars Far Away or On the Horizon?

Dana Ogle

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In world politics, using force, blatantly offensive force in particular, rarely comes without costs.–Gil Merom

Space – The Final Frontier?

The space race from the 1950s until the end of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States eventually ended in a tie.  Maybe not totally a tie, but the advent of the International Space Station (ISS) and the amount of training performed at Star City just outside of Moscow by both Russians and Americans in preparation for their missions give the appearance that the former rivalry is now a cooperative event.  Over the last few years, space is becoming the focus of many nations from a security perspective.  Merom’s succinct summation of the cost of using offensive force is a driving reason for the new focus on space either from the standpoint of dominance or of countering other nations’ use of it.This time, instead of claiming dominance by planting a flag on the moon, the idea of controlling a domain that is still not truly understood provides a level of security impacting many areas, like the Global Positioning System (GPS), Positioning, Navigating, and Timing (PNT), and Satellite Communication (SATCOM) (Harrison et al. 2018; Weeden and Sampson 2018).  And it is China and Russia that are currently leading the charge of attempting to operationalize and weaponize space to project power.

Power Projection

Countering the threat of the United States is a purpose both China and Russia cite as a reason to develop space and counterspace capabilities, but that is almost the default/de facto motive for any action they take.  Achieving space superiority is not on par with becoming a nuclear power in terms of international recognition, but China and Russia both see gaining the upper hand in space as a way to set their nations apart from the rest of the international community.  China recently declared space as a military domain. That allows China to expand its military doctrine “that the goal of space warfare and operations is to achieve space superiority using offensive and defensive means in connection with their broader strategic focus on asymmetric cost imposition, access denial, and information dominance.”( Weeden and Sampson 2018, xi). Based off of this statement, the Chinese view space as another avenue to project military power. And space, like cyberspace, is much harder to counter due to the difficulty in attribution.

Russia’s efforts to regain counterspace capability also provides a method for projecting power and is another area to show that they are back as players on the world stage.  President Putin laid out four ideas for a 21st century Russia, “(1) the strong, functioning state; (2) the state-guided market economy; (3) the welfare state with attendant safety net; and (4) the state-safeguarded foreign and security policy position that provides Russia a Eurasian – and even global – leadership position.” (Willerton 2017, 211) Pursuing a program of space and counterspace options ties directly into the first and fourth idea presented by the President and could tie into the second and third if Russia is able to export technology or intellectual capital to assist other nations.  The Russian perspective sees “modern warfare as a struggle over information dominance and net centric operations that can often take place in domains without clear boundaries and contiguous operating areas.” (Weeden and Sampson 2018, xii) Space falls within this definition so, if by leveraging space to conduct cyberspace or space-enabled information operations, then that provides an even larger platform that Russian targets must defend. After all, Russia has “extensive operational experience from decades of spaces operations.” (Harrison et al. 2018, 13) Although some areas of the Russian space program have atrophied since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. have maintained a partnership with civil space missions to the ISS. (Harrison et al. 2018, 13)

GPS, PNT, and SATCOM

Most nations widely use GPS and PNT for navigation and the geo-tagging of locations for official and unofficial uses.  For China, GPS is how Japan maintains situational awareness in the East China Sea. (Horowitz et al. 2016, 30) If China were able to achieve control over GPS satellites, the advantage it would have over other nations would be hard to quantify.  Aside from blinding or manipulating what the Japanese see in the East China Sea, commercial and military pilots rely on GPS, as do many other peoples for navigation via ships, cars or phones.  Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, are also dependent on GPS, and many military operations use drones for communication relays.  If China or Russia manipulated or jammed the link between a ground control station and the drone, then the drone could pose a threat to any airplanes or helicopters in the area. If a weaponized drone, then that capability could be used against unauthorized targets (a rogue drone) or cause chaos due to the lack of communications.

A vast majority of communications today are done by SATCOM.  To control or have the ability to deny, degrade, disrupt, destroy, or manipulate any combination of GPS, PNT, and SATCOM gives a nation a huge benefit and should be cause for concern by all.  Most systems were built and launched into orbit before cybersecurity became an issue.  The distance from Earth to the satellites’ respective orbits provided an inherent level of assumed security, so many measures that are standard on systems today are not on satellites currently in use.  Knowing the exact amount of cyber-attacks on satellites or their ground stations is unlikely as the number is either classified or nations and companies are unwilling to admit they were victims publicly.  What is known is that both China and Russia are capable, competent cyber and signals intelligence(SIGINT) actors and attacks of this nature are not beyond their abilities.

A 2014 Crowd strike report linked the “People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department Third Department 12th Bureau Unit 61486 – that subset of what is ‘generally acknowledged to be China’s premiere SIGINT collection and analysis agency’ dedicated specifically to ‘supporting China’s space surveillance network.’” (Weeden and Sampson 2018, 7-7) That level of attribution is impressive in such a nebulous environment.  Although not an official attribution by the United States Government, Crowd strike and other commercial threat intelligence providers’ identification and designation of threat actors are generally universally accepted as accurate.

A Russian Criminal syndicate, known as Turla, exploited satellite links to hack other targets according to Kaspersky Labs. (Weeden and Sampson 2018, 7-7) The Russian Government can claim Turla was a criminal act and not supported by Russia, but in 1998 Russian hijackers gained “control of a U.S. – German ROSAT deep-space monitoring satellite, then issued commands for it to rotate toward the sun, frying its optics and rendering it useless.”(Weeden and Sampson 2018, 7-8) These few examples demonstrate China and Russia maintain both the intent and capability to conduct operations in space.

Weaponization

Both China and Russia are “developing the ability to interdict satellites both from the ground standpoint and from the space standpoint” according to the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Tucker 2018) The idea of weaponizing space is enticing and terrorizing.  For those nations that are able to develop and deploy technology to disrupt other satellites, a huge advantage exists. Iran, India, and Israel are among other nations seeking to develop a space or counterspace program.  (Harrison et al. 2018; Weeden and Sampson 2018) None of these nations, however, is at the level of the space/counterspace programs of China, Russia, or the United States. Nor are they likely to refocus the bulk of their economies and militaries to concentrate solely on space. Much like the alliances developed as nuclear powers emerged, nations that desire space superiority or, simply wishing that the United States not be the dominant space power, may put their efforts toward aligning with a power they feel they can benefit from, even if other strategic objectives do not necessarily align.  The threat presented by space does not produce the mass panic that nuclear war does, but when considering that space is the domain where missiles and communications could be jammed or re-directed resulting in an inadvertent nuclear crisis, the legitimacy and severity of threats from space become apparent.

China and Russia launched a 200 million dollar venture in 2015 whose purpose was to innovate technologies. (Harrison et al. 2018, 6) In July 2018, China sent a delegation to Russia to explore potentially building a jointly-run station based on Russian knowledge in an area China is deficient. (Russia, China 2018) Interestingly, in 2013, the European Space Agency considered making China its primary space partner, instead of the United States, “as China’s global ‘rising power’ status now extends to space.” (Johnson-Freese 2015, 91)

China’s messaging that it is serious about becoming a space power resonates with other nations and they appear ready to broker the relationships needed to achieve the goal.  Russia has the technical knowledge and perhaps the upper hand in that it is a key partner on the ISS with several other nations, including the United States.  If Russia and China continue with either joint ventures or Russia supplying China with expertise, it is unknown how the United States will react, since it vehemently opposes China’s inclusion on the ISS. (Johnson-Freese 2015, 95) In February 2018, the United States Director of National Intelligence identified “Russia and China as continuing to launch ‘experimental’ satellites that conduct sophisticated on-orbit activities, at least some of which are intended to advance counterspace capabilities …some technologies with peaceful applications—such as satellite inspection, refueling, and repair—can also be used against adversary spacecraft.” (Tucker 2018) The issue is on the United States radar at a high enough level that the threats presented by China and Russia were included in the 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community from the Director of National Intelligence. (Coats 2018, 13) To what extent the United States will go to deter either China or Russia in space is still unknown at this time, however.

Space Law

The United Nations maintains an Office for Outer Space Affairs that, among other roles, assists with space law “associated with the rules, principles, and standards of international law appearing in the five international treaties and five sets of principles governing outer space, which have been developed under the auspices of the United Nations.” (United Nations 2018) In addition to the space laws adjudicated by the United Nations, individual states have their own laws regarding the use of space.  China and Russia are among those that develop national space laws.  China’s 2015 National Security Law made China’s defense of interests in space legally binding and a white paper in that same year stated, “threats from such new security domains as outer space and cyberspace will be dealt with to maintain the common security of the world community.” (Weeden and Sampson 2018, 1-20).  Russian National space laws listed on the United Nations website include areas covering space activity, management structure, licensing space operations, Russian Space Agency regulations, and an agreement between the Russian Federation and Cabinet Ministers of Ukraine about technical safeguards on the use of outer space. (United Nations 2018) The bulk of the Russian laws listed were written in the 1990s, with the exception of the Ukrainian agreement which is dated 2009. So, the possibility exists that these laws do not represent what the Russian Federation follows today as a national space law.

One area under that is a potential loophole for any nation is the dual-use nature of most satellites.  Unless a country scrutinizes a satellite before launching it into orbit, determining the use is strictly for a defensive or offensive purpose is difficult to prove.  Again, the tyranny of distance comes into play trying to establish the true nature of space-related activities.  Intelligence collection methods possibly can gather the required information to identify a weapons system or counter-weapons system on a satellite schematic, but for a communications, GPS, or PNT satellite, proving its ultimate use for something more than just supporting commercial or regular military communications and navigation services is not so easy.

What’s Next?

International and national laws are in place to ensure the freedom and safety of space for all nations. But those laws only help nations that can afford to operate in space to a certain extent.  As China and Russia expand their independent efforts at becoming dominant nations in space, where Chinese-Russian joint ventures go is worth watching. How far these two nations are willing to collaborate and even become true partners in space will have lasting consequences on how other countries will or can react. The space threat is real even if it is difficult to quantify based on it being mostly an amorphous threat today.  That does not mean nations are not trying to exploit seemingly ambiguous space as a domain for their own national advantages.  Thus, there is no excuse for international organizations like the United Nations to be caught unaware if sometime in the near future a major power shows it has successfully turned space into a domain for waging war or projecting power.

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Latin Intelligence Broadly Defined: Security and Corruption in South America

James J. Rooney, Jr.

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Many Central and South American countries currently experience serious threats to their internal and external security. Three, in particular, Honduras, Venezuela and Colombia, are infected with two specific threats that cut across the division between domestic and foreign: 1)Transnational organized crime to include drug, weapon and human trafficking and 2) Terrorism. Each of the three countries in question have slightly different political structures which affect how their military and intelligence services are organized and operate. The actual political leanings within each state government ranges from Honduras’ rightwing and center-right Liberals, to Venezuela’s move towards socialism, to Colombia’s evolution to social liberalism. The political leanings are important because they go to the heart of policy and decision-making within the country and affect how both the military and intelligence communities deal with threats and issues. The two threats identified have the potential to create political instability within each of the three countries. How each country deals with the threats has a lot to do with the utility and effectiveness and their respective intelligence organizations.

Honduras

This Central American state, “long one of the poorest countries in Latin America, is now also among the most violent and crime-ridden.”  The violence emanates from organized criminal enterprises using street gangs, transnational syndicates, and even corrupt security forces. Over the last twenty years Honduras has become a strategic transit hub for the exportation of drugs, weapons, and humans to the United States and elsewhere. Since the 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, the situation has only gotten worse. From a law enforcement perspective, a lack of capacity, transparency, and corruption cripple the judiciary from acting in the best interests of the state. The Honduran policing system is known throughout Latin America as one of the more corrupt. Even the military has not completely evaded the label of corruption, but this is the one organization that the central government has turned to time and again as it attempts to deal with the growing problems associated with organized crime and gangs like the MS13 and Barrio 18. The recent Presidential election turmoil has only added to the problem since critical monetary aid from Western nations, especially the United States, has been coopted in lieu of a resolution. Much of the anticipated funding was targeted at fighting crime.

At first blush, of all the problems and threats that Honduras is exposed to, it would seem terrorism is not one of them. But if the internal violence perpetrated by street gangs is relabeled, then the threat of domestic terrorism begins to skyrocket. These gangs have an agenda that supports organized crime, promotes violence against specific and non-specific random targets for both political and non-political reasons. Putting too many filters on the labeling can easily reduce this problem to a policing issue and, in the process, overlook the damage being done to the political, economic, and social structures of the state. If this is not terrorism, then terrorism has been lost to political analysis.

To deal with the corruption, “in early 2016, Honduras created a police purge commission following revelations that high-ranking members of the police had participated in the 2009 murder of a Honduras’ anti-drug czar.”  After careful records review, hundreds of high-ranking officials and thousands of police were removed. The Honduran intelligence agency is embedded and comes under the direct control of the military, so they are routinely called upon to provide real-time intelligence on the activities of crime families and the movements of street gangs. Since the coup of 2009, the Honduran intelligence service has been both militarized and politicized. The state has continued to militarize the battle against organized crime and terrorism granting the military policing powers, including arrest. In 2013, the state created and deployed an elite military police unit for the purpose of dealing directly with such threats and preserving the internal security of the state. These decisions have not been without controversy.

When the military essentially controls policing and the intelligence community operates essentially unchecked, there are going to be serious issues that arise concerning civil liberties and human rights. Because the military and intelligence services operate in lock step, abuses perpetrated by the military are often the result of intelligence initiatives designed to contain, isolate, or eliminate not only threats to the state but threats to their power bases. With a weakened justice system, the intelligence community supports activities that result in the arrest and detainment of political opposition and dissidents as well as primary targets within organized crime and street gangs. The implied threat to political enemies is not lost in translation. The intelligence community was seriously involved in the extrajudicial execution of organized crime leadership and heads of violent gangs after the 2009 coup. This was a way of short-circuiting the judicial process and sending a clear political message to adversaries about internal control.

Venezuela

“Venezuela is a key transit country for drug shipments leaving Colombia for the United States and Europe.”  The country’s poor rule of law and internal corruption have acted as a magnet for foreign entities, primarily Colombians, to control a lucrative drug trade. Since 2005, there is a growing body of evidence that elements of the Venezuelan security forces, including the intelligence community, are getting in on the action. The Cartel de los Soles is a loose network of police, military, and intelligence officials cashing in their influence for a healthy cut of the drug profits.

Not unlike Honduras, the threats of organized crime and terrorism are tearing at the fabric of social order and political control in Venezuela. Additionally, many Venezuelan cities are overrun with street crime and urban gang warfare that terrorizes the general population, creates an insecure and hostile living environment, and seeks through intimidation and murder to control local political power structures. But another element of domestic terrorism exists in Venezuela: violent actions carried out by political opposition against the ruling elites and government. Over the last decade, hundreds of people have been killed, property destroyed, and internal security threatened. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates on the planet. This form of domestic terrorism creates major policing issues that drive the federal government to take extraordinary measures, including the use of military forces to maintain order and localized control. The Venezuelan intelligence service is key to these military and paramilitary operations.

The Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) is the premier intelligence agency in Venezuela. “Created primarily as an internal security force, it reports directly to the Vice President of Venezuela.”  The Organization of American States has described SEBIN as the politically-controlled police force of the Bolivarian government. SEBIN has long been compared to Israel’s Mossad in terms of tactics and operational effectiveness. Unlike Mossad, SEBIN can also be a force that utilizes its power for self-aggrandizement and corruption. When carrying out its primary function of providing for state security, “SEBIN has an extensive record of human rights violations that include torture against ‘enemies of the state,’ whether they be domestic or foreign.”  SEBIN even acted as a base of operations for the American CIA in its own efforts against a post-revolutionary Cuba. Working closely with the CIA, SEBIN is accused of doing their dirty work including the torture and murder of political opponents. Thus, SEBIN is an effective political tool to deal with organized crime and domestic terrorism, including continuous sweeps for possible threats to the regime. To accomplish this mission, SEBIN has erected one of the most extensive surveillance programs in the world.

Former SEBIN operatives and other internal security experts have gone on record to say that the Venezuelan government has spared no expense in putting together a formidable domestic surveillance system using Russian and Italian technology. The information collected by SEBIN is used to build a huge database in which profiles of “people of interest” are created either for immediate action, continued monitoring, or “watch listing”. The tools are especially useful against organized crime that uses modern communications and computer-based technologies to foster their own illicit business operations. In short, SEBIN is the militarized, politicized arm of the federal government. The agency has been weaponized to deal directly with organized crime and terrorist-related activities within the country, unfortunately including political opposition.

Colombia

“After more than half a century of civil war and the rise and fall of drug trafficking empires, Colombia has made huge strides in improving its security situation in recent years.”  But, not unlike its neighbors, Honduras and Venezuela, Colombia is also beset by organized crime and forms of domestic terrorism fomented by guerrilla rebels. The Colombian underworld is a strange mixture of old crime organizations that espouse their own political ideologies along with newer criminal enterprises that have openly declared war on the federal government. The scope of criminal activity is common to the entire region and includes drugs, weapons, money laundering, human trafficking, extortion, and even illicit mining operations. Combating these threats is the job of the Colombian intelligence agency, which can be divided into a pre- and post-2011 history. The roles, missions, authority, and powers of the agency are linked to these two periods of time.Again, not unlike Honduras and Venezuela, Colombia’s intelligence service had its darker days in terms of corruption and close ties to organized crime.

“The Administrative Department of Security (Spanish: Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS) was the Security Service agency of Colombia, which was also responsible for border and immigration services. It was dissolved on 31 October 2011 as part of a wider Executive Reform andthe leadership was replaced by the Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DNI).”  DAS was initially chartered to work internal security issues for state and local governments. It was the largest civil secret service in Colombia. With an annual budget of over $100M and more than 5,000 field agents, DAS produced strategic and operational intelligence for federal decision-makers. Additional duties included providing judiciary police investigative services, as well as acting as the nation’s premier counterintelligence service responsible for both domestic and foreign threats to national security. DAS was even responsible for the control of immigration, including handling visas. Interested in stronger relations with the United States, DAS worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency to corroborate many of its policy positions. But what now seems to be a common element for Latin intelligence agencies, elements of DAS were double-dealing and lining their own pockets in the process.

“In late 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that DAS was to be replaced by a new agency,” the national intelligence agency (ANIC, in Spanish). This time around, the sole purpose of ANIC was simply to gather intelligence on domestic and foreign threats. Interface of ANIC with the military was designed to be a rare occurrence, except in extreme situations where national security was directly threatened, as determined by the federal government. The terrorism associated with guerrilla rebels apparently rises to that level. Political supporters of those FARC guerrillas are considered legitimate targets. ANIC has supported police and military operations aimed at eliminating these political opponents.

“Colombia distinguishes itself from the majority of the rest of the countries of the region because it has not suffered prolonged military governments or democracy interruptions.”  Lacking this string of transition periods, the government has been able to keep a close hold on its intelligence agency and the data collected and analyzed. The government has been successful at keeping the intelligence community focused on government-required intelligence issues, lessening the chance that the agency will begin to chart its own course and drift towards graft and corruption in the process. ANIC does its work and there have been few scandals associated with the agency. In short, it “respects democracy and the rule of law” and thus stands out compared to the previous two cases.

Honduras, Venezuela and Colombia: A Comparative Intelligence Snapshot

The intelligence agencies of Honduras, Venezuela and Colombia are non-Western in design and function. Because of the historical, social, and political unrest evident in each, the intelligence services were established to provide internal security primarily in support of government preservation and continuity. Human rights and civil liberties came at a premium and were not a top priority given the threats supposedly posed by organized crime and domestic terrorism imposed by violent street gangs and political opposition entities. This aspect separates them from Western counterparts, as these three Latin ICs do not really distinguish between internal and external security threats. In many ways they see them as an integrated and holistic threat picture, since many of the internal threats have financial and material support beyond national borders, such is the nature of transnational organized crime. Of the three, the Colombian intelligence agency is more normalized in terms of its recognition and approval by Western powers, most especially the United States. Venezuela finds itself on the other side of that political-intelligence approval spectrum. Recently, the United States has lent more credence and support to government opposition in Venezuela than to the recognized elected government. Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in hearings designed to impose sanctions against Venezuela, tended to “minimize the seriousness of the widespread violence carried out by the opposition.”  He went on to blame the Maduro government for the continued unrest.

The current policies of all three states and their intelligence agencies are similar in execution, though Honduras and Venezuela seem more brutal and less concerned with collateral damage. Consequently, they have not been as successful because the intelligence agencies have acted in a bipolar way, often collaborating with criminal elements and terrorists while also gathering intelligence for their ultimate demise. Western liberal democracies have stronger, more executable laws that prevent such intrusive and systemic levels of corruption and are thus able to more successfully deal with organizational threats.

Given their common Latin heritage and geopolitical concerns, all three countries should be acting in concert and sharing intelligence. With state-of-the-art technologies and closer ties with the West, the ability to share intelligence and create a regional security zone is certainly within the realm of possibility. Recent reforms in Colombia have gone a long way to clean up governmental agency corruption, especially within its intelligence organization, making its IC less prone to militarization and politicization. Honduras and Venezuela comparatively have a long way to go but they could learn a lot from their near peer. Only time will tell how seriously they consider the opportunity.

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The Conference on Libya hosted in Palermo, Sicily

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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It currently seems that the Conference on Libya scheduled in Palermo, Sicily, will finally be a predictable success for the Italian government.

General Haftar, the powerful man of Cyrenaica (and currently also of Sirte) arrived in Rome on October 28 last for an informal visit which, however, was extremely useful for the Palermo Conference and for Italy’s future strategy in Libya.

The Head of the old “Operation Dignity” will certainly be also in Palermo, while Russia will probably be represented by Medvedev or by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Bogdanov. Or even by Dimitri Peskov. Nevertheless, whoever of them will participate in the Conference will have President Putin’s personal instructions to follow.  Moreover, President Putin will follow the Conference debate in Sicily with extreme care.

Russia’s goal is to stabilize its presence in Libya, regardless of the political results reached by the Palermo Conference, and hence to start a strategic relationship also with Fayez al-Sarraj and Misrata’s Seventh Brigade, as well as with the major tribes of the Tripoli area. This can be achieved above all with the Italian support.

Nothing is more distant from the Russian interest than an exclusive bilateral relationship with General Haftar, of whom Russia has even minted the new coins with  Colonel Gaddafi’s profile.

Russia, however, could have Italy’s good offices for establishing relations with Fayez al-Sarraj, with Misrata’s militias and, finally, the Fezzan areas, where Russia could establish itself as a major economic partner.

General Haftar’s Cyrenaica is thus moving away from France, whose intelligence services still fight side by side with his own militias. Why? Because the powerful man of Cyrenaica knows that, having an exclusive relationship with France, he would remain isolated in Europe and, above all, vis-à-vis Egypt.

In fact, President Al Sisi has put pressure on General Haftar to be in Palermo and not trust completely France, which only wants ENI’s oil wells – as at Sarkozy’s time – and in the future would certainly not be sympathetic to the government of Cyrenaica, as it appears today.

Another decisive sign for the positive outcome of the Conference is the fact that General Haftarhas also stated that Italian Ambassador Perrone can return to Tripoli.

Also Aguila Saleh Issa – the President of the Tobruk-based Parliament that recognizes al-Sarraj’s government, but relies on General Haftar’s forces –  will be in Palermo.

He is an excellent and authoritative mediator.

Also Saleh, who has already come to Rome, is a prestigious personality that can possibly Endeavour to reach an agreement for a future unification of the country.

The problem of unification will be posed by Ahmed Mitig, the leader of Misrata – another figure that could take the lead of a new unitary project – as well as by Khaled al-Meshri and even Khalifa Gwell, now defeated by al-Sarraj’s troops (and by Misrata’s 7thBrigade led by Mitig), but always useful-or, indeed, necessary – to reach stable peace in Libya. It will be Italy – if capable to do so – to establish a new hierarchy and provide guarantees to the various leaders for a national, but widely regionalized power, as it was also the case at Gaddafi’s time.

It should be noted that Mitig is al-Sarraj’s No. 2 leader.

The United States has no particular interest in the Libyan dossier, which is outside their African sphere of interest, although recently some US “advisors” have secretly arrived in Sirte.

Nevertheless, the United States is strongly interested in the issue of Islamic terrorism – hence it will favour any credible solution that can stabilize Libya and stop the arrival of jihadists from sub-Saharan Africa in Europe and, possibly, in the United States itself.

The France led by President Macron – whom we do not yet know whether he will manage to participate in the Palermo Conference – is in an obviously difficult situation, also due to Macron’s non-diplomatic illness.

Should the Palermo Conference fail, its only card to play would be to establish a stronger alliance with General Haftar and also with Russia – otherwise France will basically play second fiddle in Libya and in the Maghreb region, with imaginable repercussions on its sub-Saharan and central Françafrique.

Moreover, the French intelligence services have long been operating in Fezzan to thwart the 2017 agreements signed in Rome by the various tribes of the region, with the support of the then Interior Minister, Marco Minniti (but also, fortunately, of the then Foreign Minister).

Sabotage actions, support to the French Armed Forces on the border with Niger, but also mass upheavals in Tripoli in September 2018, most likely triggered by French intelligence operatives and local Islamists.

Hence the wider the attendance at the Conference, the greater Italy’s chances of victory and, consequently, France’s chances of defeat. France, isolated on the Libyan internal chessboard, will probably take its revenge in the area of Niger.

We shall also see what role will be played by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who now lives in a Libyan secret location near Egypt.

Obviously Colonel Gaddafi’s most brilliant son will not be in Palermo, but it would be useful to consider him part of the game.

Saif would still be General Haftar’s card to guide and direct a unified country after the crazy and stupid “Arab spring” made by France and Great Britain, which are even more inept that the United States in the African foreign policy.

A US foreign policy which – only thanks to the fight against “terrorism” – is flooding Africa and the EU borders with drones, satellite networks and military bases to seal the EU itself, control the evolution and developments on its borders and turn the Russian Federation into a middle Asian regional power.

Moreover, should Italy’s project fail, French President Macron could find a role to play in the stabilization of Libya, thus creating a new mediator’s role precisely with al-Farraj, and rebuilding – probably at great cost – a new relationship with General Haftar, who let Russia know he is dissatisfied with France, which, as usual, believes it can dictate the military agenda for those it helps.

Russia, however, could also accept France’s role if the Palermo Conference failed. Russia only wants to reach the intended result. It does not want, however, to antagonize Italy, the oil power needed in Libya and the future destabilizer of the now disturbing EU, which has got in the way with Ukraine and the sanctions and tension with the countries of the old Warsaw Pact, which are now EU Member States. President Trump does not like Europe at all and has showed it everywhere. President Putin, however, who is more reserved and discreet, could be fed up with a European Union that – as a foolish servant – repeats the US propaganda and is no longer useful as business partner as it was in the past. Now time has come for the Russian-Chinese axis, which ensures Russia’s economic growth – an axis passing through the Mediterranean, not the Eurasian peninsula.

Hence we also need to think about the outcome of the meetings that will be held by the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Paris on November 8 next.

These meetings will be attended by some Misrata’s and 7thBrigade’s leaders, and by Abo Kassim Kozeit, member of the High Council of State, as well as by MPs Soleiman Elfaqih and Mohammed Erraid, and GNA advisors Ali Bousseta and Ettaher Elbaour, in addition to Haftar’s military men Salha Juha and Mohammed Eddarat.

Preparation for a coup or for another government in exile? This is the reason why Haftar is worried.

Hence the Paris meetings will be a sort of Palermo Conference – hosted in a cold weather location, with the second and third ranks of the various participants in the Sicilian Conference – to mobilize and anyway activate the French networks in Libya for elections in the near future, which may possibly be interesting for some participants, and for a “plan for Libya” by the French intelligence services which will not convince al-Sarraj, who does not want to die in an attack on his government’s palace. This must be clearly said in Palermo.

Nevertheless, it will not even convince General Haftar, who now fears his arrogant allies and looks to Russia and also to Italy for putting an end to the conflict in a way that, however, does not humiliate him.

At the last Libyan elections only 17% of people voted – certainly not a share of voters that would make us take them seriously.

Elections in the near future, by which the covert operations of the French intelligence services set great store, would only create the conditions for a new fratricidal war – and this must be clearly explained to all the Libyan parties participating in the forthcoming Conference scheduled in Palermo.

For the Italian intelligence services said Conference is a significant turning point.

As far as we know, the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (AISE), Alberto Manenti, who was born in Tarhouna, depends on the outcome of the Palermo Conference, while also the domestic intelligence agency (AISI) and the Department of Security Intelligence (DIS) are under very strong pressure.

Our American friends should also be pointed out that only the future unity of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Haftar’s forces, the Tobruk-based government and other parties is the sole guarantee of a serious struggle against ISIS.

A repression of Libyan jihadism which is not at all a marginal goal, neither for Libya nor for Europe, considering the persisting tensions in Sirte, the reorganization of the so-called “radical” Islam in Fezzan (which could also benefit France, which would direct it towards the North) and the Caliphate’s final penetration also along the coastal lines.

Let us imagine that the recent visit paid by the Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, to Doha, the capital of Qatar, protecting the Muslim Brotherhood and supporting al-Sarraj, together with Turkey, has created a credible pressure of this Emirate on the Government of National Accord (GNA) for a platform – which is allegedly already circulating within the Italian Government – on the gradual unification of the Libyan Armed Forces.

A platform which is also the new goal of Al Sisi’s Egypt – although we do not know to what extent this goal is credible. Probably Egypt is finally fed up with funding and training General Haftar’s expensive army that, however, is still targeting its own offensive on Derna, a jihadist city-State.

It should also be recalled that, just the day before the beginning of the Palermo Conference, Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet in Paris for the future revision of the INF Treaty regarding medium-range missiles, recently rejected by the USA.

President Trump speaks about the Russian missiles, but he actually means the Chinese ones: should the new INF Treaty be reworded as desired by the US Administration, it would lead to the destruction of 95% of Chinese missiles.

And the United States strategically holds China only from the Pacific, from South Korea and from the bases in Japan.

Hence, probably President Macron wants to be credited for a success in the negotiation – even only for media purposes –  but it is much more likely that the Paris agreement on the new INF Treaty would ultimately be just a list of fine words.

Nevertheless, it would count to overshadow the Sicilian Conference and marginalize the Italian government and its image vis-à-vis Libya and the allies.

We do not know yet what Chancellor Merkel will say. She will be in Palermo representing a country that has not participated – except for a small e-warfare brigade -in the Western struggle to support the jihadists of Cyrenaica that led to the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime. In all likelihood, she will also devise a role as mediator, but politically weakened at national level and without a clear strategic direction in Africa which, however, would lead her to support-for want of anything better – the French assumptions and options.

Are we sure, however, that President Macron – so rhetorically pro-European – wants to deal with a German ally he has already antagonized on public accounts and the endless mass of irremovable civil servants? In no case President Macron wants to get involved, in Africa, with the German Armed Forces in disarray and with a primary goal in mind, which is still the Eurasian East?

Certainly France has invited the second and third ranks of the two major Libyan groups, led by al-Sarraj and Haftar, with a view to imitating the inclusion strategy that has characterized the Italian preparatory work for the Palermo Conference scheduled at Villa Igea.

Moreover, thirteen small groups invited by President Macron have already decided not to attend the Paris meeting.

In fact, Prime Minister Conte’s government has involved all the participants in the Libyan game, including the apparently minor ones.

Also in view of weakening al-Sarraj, Khalifa Haftar would like to have –  and probably already has – a good relationship with Misrata’s militias which, together with the other 250 autonomous militias, make up the unsafe, insecure and expensive (also for others) military basis of al-Sarraj’s government.

As already noted, Ahmed Mitig is the powerful man of Misrata and al-Sarraj’sNo. 2 leader.

Last year Mitig had also been to Agrigento, Sicily, for the first Italian-Libyan Forum. Meanwhile the Conference was being prepared.

The Palermo Conference will also be attended by Khaled Meshri, the President of Libya’s Supreme Council of State and No. 3 leader who, upon precise orders, will probably leave the Paris quasi-Summit on Libya and give up its elusive “elections”.

As already noted, the Conference will be also attended by Aguila Saleh Issa, the President of the GNA Parliament. but having excellent relations with the Tobruk-based Parliament.

He is certainly a decisive figure in Libya’s current and future set-up.

Moreover, there are already jihadist infiltrations also in Tripoli and Ghassan Salamè, the UN Special Representative in Libya, has publicly accused al-Sarraj of being weak.

Therefore Al-Sarraj is no longer as powerful within the  Tripoli government as he was a year ago and General Haftar does not fail to let it know that he still wants to get to Tripoli.

We need to ensure a honourable role to al-Sarraj; to let General Haftar know he can now stabilize his conquests, but must also have the support of Tripoli’s and Misrata’s forces, as well as of many Fezzan tribes, with whom the Italian intelligence services have always been in contact; to make it clear also for the old Head of “Operation Dignity” that it is useless to defeat and humiliate his enemies in Tripoli – a harshness that will unleash other tribal wars.

There is also another decisive factor, namely finance. Some of Gaddafi’s assets in the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and in other related investment companies have not yet been requisitioned by the United Nations, which had forgotten to make banking requisition mandatory for governments.

LIA’s division between Libya and Malta is ineffective and has led some Libyan financial transactions to come close to very dangerous environments.

General Haftar controlled the Oil Crescent’s wells, but eventually agreed to reach a reasonable arrangement on the oil sale proceeds.

All the money made or the returns on investment – currently limited -of the funds of Gaddafi’s regime in the EU and abroad must return to the new Libya.

This is the reason why – starting from the Palermo Conference – an Organization for the Financial Autonomy of the whole Libya could be set up which, in view of the future reunification of the area, should establish an equitable and even stable distribution of income between the regions, as well as enlarged representation between tribes and local governments, and the EU protection, with a delegation of powers to Italy, which already controls – with ENI and fully respecting all parties – the oil-related assets.

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