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Hezbollah unravels CIA spy network in Lebanon

News4u-News Desk-WASHINGTON: Hezbollah has partially unraveled the CIA’s spy network in Lebanon, severely damaging the intelligence agency’s ability to gather vital information on the terrorist organization at a tense time in the region, former and current US officials said.

Officials said several foreign spies working for the CIA had been captured by Hezbollah in recent months. The blow to the CIA’s operations inLebanon came after top agency managers were alerted last year to be especially careful handling informants in the Middle East country.

Hezbollah’s longtime leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, boasted in June on television he had unmasked at least two CIA spies who had infiltrated the ranks of the organization, which the US considers a terrorist group closely allied with Iran.

Though the US Embassy in Lebanon officially denied the accusation, American officials concede that Nasrallah was not lying and the damage spread like a virus as Hezbollah methodically picked off the CIA’s informants.

To be sure, some deaths are to be expected in these shadowy spy wars. It’s an extremely risky business and people get killed. But the damage to the agency’s network in Lebanon has been greater than usual, several former and current US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about security matters.

The Lebanon crisis is the latest mishap involving CIA counterintelligence, defined as the undermining or manipulating of the enemy’s ability to gather information. Former CIA officials have said the once-essential skill has been eroded as the agency shifted from outmaneuvering rival spy agencies to fighting terrorists. In the rush for immediate results, former officers say, tradecraft has suffered.

The most recent high-profile example was the suicide bomber who posed as an informant and killed seven CIA employees and wounded six others in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009.

Last year, then-CIA director Leon Panetta said the agency had to maintain “a greater awareness of counterintelligence.” But eight months later, Nasrallah let the world know he had bested the CIA, demonstrating that the agency still struggles with this critical aspect of spying and sending a message to those who would betray Hezbollah.

It remains unclear whether anyone has been or will be held responsible in the wake of this counterintelligence disaster or whether the incident will affect the CIA’s ability to recruit assets in Lebanon.

CIA officials were warned their spies in Lebanon were vulnerable. Those told include the chief of the unit that supervises Hezbollah operations from CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and the head of counterintelligence.

Former and current intelligence officials are waiting to see how CIA Director David Petreaus, who took the helm in September, will handle this fiasco. While in the military, the retired four-star developed a reputation for exacting standards and holding people accountable.

“Gen Petraeus will definitely take care of the failings of his organization. He will deal with it head on and not try to bury it under the carpet,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, the general’s former executive officer in Iraq.

In response to AP’s questions about what happened in Lebanon, a U.S. official said Hezbollah is a complicated enemy, responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group before September 2001. The agency did not underestimate the organization, the official said.

The CIA’s toughest adversaries, like Hezbollah and Iran, have for years been improving their ability to hunt spies, relying on patience and guile to exploit counterintelligence holes.

In 2007, for instance, when Ali-Reza Asgari, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, disappeared in Turkey, it was assumed that he was either killed or defected. In response, the Iranian government began a painstaking review of foreign travel by its citizens, particularly to places like Turkey where Iranians don’t need a visa and could meet with foreign intelligence services.

It didn’t take long, a Western intelligence official told the AP, before the US, Britain and Israelbegan losing contact with some of their Iranian spies. In this instance, the Iranians used travel and expense records to figure out who was selling the foreign intelligence services information about its nuclear program.

The State Department last year described Hezbollah as “the most technically capable terrorist group in the world,” and the Defense Department estimates it receives between $100 million and $200 million per year in funding from Iran.

Backed by Iran, Hezbollah has built a professional counterintelligence apparatus that Nasrallah — whom the U.S. government designated an international terrorist a decade ago — proudly describes as the “spy combat unit.” US intelligence officials believe the unit, which is considered formidable and ruthless, went operational around 2004.

Using the latest commercial software, Nasrallah’s spy-hunters unit began methodically searching for traitors in Hezbollah’s midst. To find them, U.S. officials said, Hezbollah examined cellphone data looking for anomalies. The analysis identified cellphones that, for instance, were used rarely or always from specific locations and only for a short period of time. Then it came down to old-fashioned, shoe-leather detective work: Who in that area had information that might be worth selling to the enemy?

The effort took years but eventually Hezbollah, and later the Lebanese government, began making arrests. By one estimate, 100 Israeli assets were apprehended as the news made headlines across the region in 2009. Some of those suspected Israeli spies worked for telecommunications companies and served in the military.

Back at CIA headquarters, the arrests alarmed senior officials. The agency prepared a study on its own vulnerabilities, US officials said, and the results proved to be prescient.

The analysis concluded that the CIA was susceptible to the same analysis that had compromised the Israelis, the officials said.

CIA managers were instructed to be extra careful about handling sources in Lebanon. A US official said recommendations were issued to counter the potential problem.

But it is unclear what preventive measures were taken by the Hezbollah unit chief or the officer in charge of the Beirut station. Former officials say the Hezbollah unit chief is no stranger to the necessity of counterintelligence and knew the risks. The unit chief has worked overseas in hostile environments like Afghanistan and played an important role in the capture of a top terrorist while stationed in the Gulf region after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 against the US.

“We’ve lost a lot of people in Beirut over the years, so everyone should know the drill,” said a former Middle East case officer familiar with the situation.

But whatever actions the CIA took, they were not enough. Like the Israelis, bad tradecraft doomed these CIA assets and the agency ultimately failed to protect them, an official said. In some instances, CIA officers fell into predictable patterns when meeting their sources, the official said.

This allowed Hezbollah to identify assets and case officers and unravel at least part of the CIA’s spy network in Lebanon. There was also a reluctance to share cases and some files were put in “restricted handling.” The designation severely limits the number of people who know the identity of the source but also reduces the number of experts who could spot problems that might lead to their discovery, officials said.

Nasrallah’s televised announcement in June — he called the US Embassy in Beirut a “den of spies’ — was followed by finger-pointing among departments inside the CIA as the spy agency tried figure out what went wrong and contain the damage.

The fate of these CIA assets is unknown. Hezbollah treats spies differently, said Matthew Levitt, a counterterrorism and intelligence expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies who is writing a book about the terrorist organization

“It all depends on who these guys were and what they have to say,” Levitt said. “Hezbollah has disappeared people before. Others they have kept around.”

Who’s responsible for the mess in Lebanon? It’s not clear. The chief of Hezbollah operations at CIA headquarters continues to run the unit that also focuses on Iranians and Palestinians. The CIA’s top counterintelligence officer, who was one of the most senior women in the clandestine service, recently retired after approximately five years on the job.

She is credited with some important cases, including the recent arrests of Russian spies who had been living in the US for years.

Officials said the woman was succeeded by a more experienced operations officer. That officer has held important posts in Moscow, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Balkans - key frontlines in the agency’s spy wars with foreign intelligence services and terrorist organizations.AP

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Hezbollah indulging in intimidation for political goals

News4u-News Desk- Washington, The US has accused Hezbollah of indulging in coercion, intimidation and threats of violence in the formation of Lebanese government.

“The make-up of Lebanon’s government is a Lebanese decision, but this decision should not be reached through coercion, intimidation and threats of violence. Unfortunately, Hezbollah, backed by Syria, engaged in all three in pursuit of its political goals,” State Department spokesman P J Crowley said in a statement yesterday.

Crowley said the US is closely following the situation in Lebanon.

It is essential that any Lebanese government abide by the Lebanese constitution, prevent any use of violence, including efforts to exact retribution against former government officials ? and lives up to all of its international obligations, including UN Security Council Resolutions and its commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, he said.pti

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Iran smuggled arms to Hezbollah on ambulances: WikiLeaks

News4u - News Desk : Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents intoLebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, a leaked US diplomatic cable showed Monday.

The 2008 classified cable which originated in Dubai quotes an Iranian source as saying the Iranian Red Crescent was used as a cover by members of the elite Revolutionary Guard to enter Lebanon during the conflict.

“IRC shipments of medical supplies served also to facilitate weapons shipments,” said the cable that appeared on the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

It added Red Crescent staff had seen “missiles in the planes destined for Lebanon when delivering medical supplies to the plane.”

“The plane was allegedly half full prior to the arrival of any medical supplies,” the cable said.

The Iranian source also said an IRC hospital in Lebanon was handed over to the control of Hezbollah at the request of Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of the Shiite party.

Israel and the United States have long accused Iran of supplying military and financial backing to Hezbollah.

A party official reached by AFP had no immediate comment on the leaked US cable, which was among more than 250,000 documents that WikiLeaks released Sunday.

The 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

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Clinton warns Hezbollah it can’t stop UN tribunal

News4u - News Desk : (AP) US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today warned Hezbollah against resorting to violence, saying the militant group cannot stop a UN court investigating the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.

Clinton’s remarks came in an interview with Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper, published today.

It followed a threat by Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah who yesterday said his group will “cut the hand” of anyone who tries to arrest its members for the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri.

The Netherlands-based tribunal is expected to issue indictments soon, and speculation that members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah could be targeted has fueled fears of violence and a political crisis in the country. Nasrallah, who claims the court is biased, has said he expects members of his group to be indicted.

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Egypt sentences 26 Hezbollah men

News4u-News Desk - An Egyptian court Wednesday sentenced 26 suspected Hezbollah members to jail with three of them being awarded life in prison on charges of spying for the Lebanese militant group and plotting attacks in Egypt.

The rest of the 26-member group - including 18 Egyptians, five Palestinians, one Sudanese and two Lebanese nationals - were sentenced between six months and 15 years in prison by the Emergency Higher State Security Criminal Court.

Four of the defendants, including the group’s Lebanese leader Mohammad Qiblan, were tried in absentia in the trial which started in August 2009.

The courtroom erupted with cries of shock at the sentences and chanting when Judge Adel Abdelsalam Gomaa pronounced the verdicts.

The defendants were found guilty of plotting attacks against vital Egyptian sectors, such as tourism and the Suez Canal, and sending operatives and explosives to Gaza to aid militants there.

Egypt sentences 26 for plotting Hezbollah terrorist campaign

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US summons Syrian envoy, raises concerns on arms to Hezbollah

News4u-News Desk-The Obama Administration has summoned a top Syrian envoy in Washington to express its serious concerns over the country’s “potential transfer” of arms to Hezbollah.
Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, the most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington, was at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department.

Jabbour was summoned Monday to review Syria’s “provocative behaviour” concerning the “potential transfer” of arms to Hezbollah, the State Department said.

“We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organisations in the region.Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hizbollah,” Deputy State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said.

This was the fourth time in the past few months when the US’ concerns have been raised to the Embassy, he said, adding it was intended to “further amplify” messages communicated to the Syrian government.

“Our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return,” Dugid said.

Condemning in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah, Duguid said it can only have a destabilising effect on the region.

It would also pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon, he added.

“The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah.”

Additionally, the heightened tension and increased potential for conflict this policy produces is an impediment to on-going efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, he said.

“All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorised by the Lebanese Government,” the spokesman added.

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Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

News4u-News Desk-Syria strongly denied on Thursday accusations by Israel that it was in the process of delivering Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

“For some time now, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in Lebanon,” a foreign ministry statement said.

“Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region,” the statement added.

“Israel is seeking to create a climate that will pave the way for an eventual Israeli attack to avoid responding to the demands of a just and comprehensive peace.”

The United States voiced alarm about the Israeli reports on Wednesday, warning any such deliveries to Hezbollah would put Lebanon at “significant risk.”

“If such an action has been taken, and we continue to analyse this issue, it would represent a failure by the parties in the region to honour UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.

Crowley was referring to a 2006 truce resolution that ended a devastating 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“And clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk,” he added.

Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria on Tuesday of supplying the Scuds but a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unclear if the transfers had yet taken place.

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

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Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

News4u-News Desk-Syria strongly denied on Thursday accusations by Israel that it was in the process of delivering Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

“For some time now, Israel has been running a campaign claiming that Syria has been supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles in Lebanon,” a foreign ministry statement said.

“Syria strongly denies these allegations which are an attempt by Israel to raise tensions in the region,” the statement added.

“Israel is seeking to create a climate that will pave the way for an eventual Israeli attack to avoid responding to the demands of a just and comprehensive peace.”

The United States voiced alarm about the Israeli reports on Wednesday, warning any such deliveries to Hezbollah would put Lebanon at “significant risk.”

“If such an action has been taken, and we continue to analyse this issue, it would represent a failure by the parties in the region to honour UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.

Crowley was referring to a 2006 truce resolution that ended a devastating 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“And clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk,” he added.

Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria on Tuesday of supplying the Scuds but a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unclear if the transfers had yet taken place.

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

Syria denies Israeli charges of sending Scuds to Hezbollah

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