Tag Archives: Central Intelligence Agency

Hungry for Your DNA-the CIA

DNA methylation image from wikipedia

The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.  Skincential Science’s noninvasive procedure, described on the Clearista website as “painless,” is said to require only water, a special detergent, and a few brushes against the skin, making it a convenient option for restoring the glow of a youthful complexion — and a novel technique for gathering information about a person’s biochemistry.  In-Q-Tel, founded in 1999 by then-CIA Director George Tenet, identifies cutting-edge technology to support the mission of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and provides venture funding to help grow tech firms to develop those solutions…. The CIA fund approached his company, telling him the fund shares an interest in looking at DNA extraction using the method pioneered by Skincential Sciences, according to Lebovitz (the CEO of the company).  The CIA fund has described human skin as a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.”…

Despite the association with computer and satellite technology, In-Q-Tel also maintains a long-running interest in developing advanced genetic analysis, biological technologies for detection and diagnostics, as well as research into what is known as physiological intelligence, which, in a 2010 article, the fund described as “actionable information about human identity and experience that have always been of interest to the Intelligence Community.”

The article, which is no longer available on the fund’s website but ispreserved by a cache hosted by the Internet Archive, argues that advances in medical research into biomarkers can be leveraged by intelligence agencies for a variety of uses, from airport security to next-generation identification tools.

A diagram in the article calls human skin the body’s largest organ and a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.” The author, Dr. Kevin O’Connell, then a “senior solutions architect” with In-Q-Tel, notes, “The DNA contained in microorganisms in a person’s gut or on a person’s skin may contain sequences that indicate a particular geographical origin.”

In-Q-Tel has invested in several companies working in this realm, in addition to Skincential Sciences. In 2013, In-Q-Tel publicly announced a strategic partnership with Bio-NEMS, a firm that developed a semiconductor device used to analyze DNA for a variety of diagnostic and human identification applications. Claremont BioSolutions, a diagnostics firm, and Biomatrica, a firm that specializes in preparing biological samples for DNA testing, are also backed by In-Q-Tel.

Skincential Sciences did not start out as a beauty company. The firm was founded in 2010 as DX Biosciences, which was developed around a patent by a team of scientists including Dr. Samir Mitragotri of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mitragotri has published research into the use of biomarkers as a “window to body’s health.

Excerpts from Lee Fang,  Beauty Secrets of the Spies, the Intercept, Apr. 8 2016

NGO Sues CIA over Freedom of Information

foia

[T]he Central Intelligence Agency has a track record of holding itself apart from, and largely above, the Freedom of Information Act, consistently ignoring deadlines, refusing to work with requesters, and capriciously rejecting even routine requests for what should be clearly public information.  Additionally, we [MuckRock] are suing against the CIA’s general practice of rejecting requests for email records which do not include the time frame, subject, and to and from fields, regardless of what other information is including to help narrow the request. This practice replaces the required functional test for whether or not a request reasonably describes the records sought with a per se test that automatically rejects any request for email records based on whether or not it includes all four pieces of information, virtually ensuring that vast amounts of CIA email records go unprocessed and unreleased.

Excerpt, Michael Morisy, Why we’re suing the CIA: After 10,000 requests, MuckRock launches its first lawsuit, MuckRock Press Release, June 11, 2014

Who is Trapwire? CIA’s surveillance machinery

Trapwire is the name of a program revealed in the latest Wikileaks bonanza—it is the mother of all leaks, by the way….. “Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology—and have installed it across the U.S. under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.  Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence. It’s part of a program called TrapWire and it’s the brainchild of the Abraxas, a Northern Virginia company (has been acquired by Cubic corporation) staffed with elite from America’s intelligence community.  The employee roster at Arbaxas reads like a who’s who of agents once with the Pentagon, CIA and other government entities according to their public LinkedIn profiles, and the corporation’s ties are assumed to go deeper than even documented. The details on Abraxas and, to an even greater extent TrapWire, are scarce, however, and not without reason. For a program touted as a tool to thwart terrorism and monitor activity meant to be under wraps, its understandable that Abraxas would want the program’s public presence to be relatively limited. But thanks to last year’s hack of the Strategic Forecasting intelligence agency, or Stratfor, all of that is quickly changing.”  So: those spooky new “circular” dark globe cameras installed in your neighborhood park, town, or city—they aren’t just passively monitoring. They’re plugged into Trapwire and they are potentially monitoring every single person via facial recognition.

Excerpts, David Seaman, WIKILEAKS: Surveillance Cameras Around The Country Are Being Used In A Huge Spy Network, Businessinsider.com, Aug. 10, 2012

See also Top Secret America

wikileaks page

The Alliance between CIA and ISI; whose head on a platter?

And, perhaps most crucially, the two fractious allies’ top spies are talking again, with a view to enhancing their cooperation as the 2014 deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan looms.   The relationship between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has been at the core of Washington and Islamabad’s alliance for over a decade now — and sometimes the source of the mutual misery. After 9/11, both intelligence agencies collaborated closely to capture scores of al-Qaeda suspects. But over the past two years, as suspicions have grown, the two sides have become near adversaries.

The ISI is often accused of supporting jihadist proxies attacking U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan — and is widely considered to have been either incompetent or complicit when it came to Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan. The CIA was found to be operating independently within Pakistan’s jealously guarded territory, running unauthorized contractors, recruiting local informants and showering drones at their fiercest pace yet.  But as bitter memories of those disputes begin to recede and new faces assume leadership roles, there is some cautious optimism going forward now — this despite domestic imperatives in both countries (an election year in the U.S., the heated anti-American populism in Pakistan) making rapprochement difficult. Last month the new head of ISI, Lieut. General Zaheer-ul-Islam, made his first visit to Washington, meeting with top intelligence, defense and Administration officials. Tentative agreements were made in terms of joint operations against militants in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported. But, officials from both sides say, fundamental differences linger.

Little is known about General ul-Islam, but a change at the top of ISI will please U.S. security officials. The previous ISI chief, now retired Lieut. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, had become fiercely hostile to Washington in his final year — engaging in “shouting matches” with then CIA director Leon Panetta, cutting cooperation down to a minimum, ordering the harassment of U.S. diplomats in Pakistan and locking up Shakil Afridi, the physician who ran a vaccination program in the town where bin Laden was found hiding.

Afridi is currently serving a 33-year sentence handed down to him by a tribal court. The charges were not explicitly for spying for the U.S., but there is little doubt in observers’ minds that this is the reason he was punished. Afridi wasn’t arrested for the alleged offenses he has been convicted for until the ISI discovered his vaccination program and links to the CIA. At one point, according to a Pakistani military official familiar with the discussions, the CIA suggested that the ISI strip Afridi of his nationality and hand him over to the U.S. General Pasha angrily refused, saying it would set a bad precedent — one that could encourage others to spy for foreign countries if there were no consequences. U.S. Congressmen reacted angrily to Afridi’s imprisonment, voting to cut $33 million of U.S. assistance to Pakistan, one million for each year he’s serving in prison. The question of Afridi’s fate will likely have come up during ul-Islam’s visit to the U.S. There may be no movement soon, but if relations between Washington and Islamabad grow warmer, the ISI may eventually be persuaded to arrange for Afridi’s quiet release.

The harassment of U.S. officials hasn’t changed much, says a U.S. official. Vehicles are constantly stopped, security personnel searched with unusual rigor, and there is even pressure on the U.S. to abandon the construction of a new consulate in Peshawar. On other fronts, ul-Islam has maintained a low profile, a decision thought to be influenced by his predecessor’s controversial visibility. “Unlike General Pasha,” says a senior politician from Pakistan’s opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, “we don’t see the new head of the ISI interfering in politics — yet.”

During the new ISI chief’s visit, U.S. officials repeated their long-standing concerns about the Haqqani network, a potent jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda that is based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal territory along the Afghan border. From their sanctuary there, say U.S. officials, the group contentedly plots terrorist attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, before slipping back across the border. The ISI is widely suspected of offering the group support, with Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even describing the Haqqanis as “a veritable arm of the ISI” in his valedictory testimony before Congress last year.

The Pakistanis deny backing the Haqqanis but concede links with them and their reluctance to confront them. They plaintively cite a lack of resources and insist their priority is targeting militants mounting attacks inside Pakistan, but tellingly add that the Haqqanis will be crucial to any future Afghan settlement that Pakistan hopes to be a part of. But a series of unremitting, violent attacks in and around Kabul, authored by the Haqqanis, has intensified the pressure on the Pakistanis.

Last October, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, discussed the possibility of “limiting the space” given to the Haqqanis in North Waziristan with Clinton during her visit to Islamabad. The Pakistani army said it had certain contingency plans in place for limited, surgical operations to reclaim territory in some of North Waziristan’s main towns. These plans were shelved soon after, with the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. Now, as pressure builds again, with enduring attacks and Congressmen calling for the Haqqani network to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization, the plans will have to be revisited. The new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson, told U.S. lawmakers during his confirmation hearings last month that he will be committed to taking on the Haqqanis.

Without a Pakistani military operation against the Haqqanis, the CIA has focused on drone strikes against them and other militants in the region. The strikes, U.S. officials insist, are effective. Some Pakistani military officials also have conceded improved accuracy. But there are limits to what can be achieved by a drone-only strategy, and there are political costs. Drone strikes have not only become hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where the parliament has united in denouncing them, but also across the world. A Pew Research Center survey published in June found that majorities in countries as diverse as France, Germany, the Czech Republic, China, Japan, Brazil and Turkey opposed the widespread use of drone strikes.

An acknowledgment of the accumulating political costs may temper the frequency with which the CIA uses drone strikes. General David Petraeus, the new CIA director, is said to appreciate that the program is unsustainable. Previous CIA director Panetta was seen as being indulgent of “the CT guys and their shiny toys,” says the official. Drone strikes increased to a pace of one every four days at their height.

But there are certain points at which they are seen as a necessity — and they will continue to be used despite ul-Islam’s insistence last month in Washington that they stop. Just days after Clinton’s apology and the reopening of the NATO supply lines, a drone strike in North Waziristan reportedly killed 20 suspected militants. The actual figure, the U.S. official says, was lower. But it was a truck packed with explosives heading across the border. “It was a clear shot,” the official says. “We had to take it.” And that is one of the many differences in opinion that both sides will somehow have to learn to live with.

Omar Waraich.The CIA and ISI: Are Pakistan and the U.S.’s Spy Agencies Starting to Get Along?, Time, Aug. 7, 2012

Right-sizing the CIA in Iraq

The Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to cut its presence in Iraq to less than half of wartime levels, according to U.S. officials familiar with the planning, a move that is largely a result of challenges the CIA faces operating in a country that no longer welcomes a major U.S. presence.  Under the plans being considered, the CIA’s presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel, officials said.  The CIA had already begun to pull back in Iraq since the height of the war, officials said. But the drawdown, coming six months after the departure of American military forces, would be significant. The officials declined to provide exact numbers, give a breakdown of levels of analysts versus covert operators or say where agency workers would be redeployed, all of which are classified.

Proponents of the change say the CIA can make better use of its personnel in other areas. Those could include emerging terrorist hot spots such as Yemen, home to the al Qaeda affiliate the U.S. considers to pose the greatest threat to the homeland, and Mali, where an unstable government has fanned concerns.

The move comes amid worries over possible gaps in U.S. intelligence about the threat posed by al Qaeda in Iraq. Administration officials, diplomats and intelligence analysts have in recent weeks debated whether the militant organization is a growing threat after an internal government report pointed to a rise in the number of attacks this year, officials said.  The plan would also reduce the U.S. intelligence presence in the region as neighboring Syria appears to be verging on civil war. Al Qaeda in Iraq is also sending fighters to Syria to battle the Assad regime, Pentagon officials say.

The spy drawdown is part of a broader shift in U.S.-Iraq relations, with Washington moving to scale back diplomatic and training missions in the country. But it illustrates the limits of the Obama administration’s national-security strategy, as it steers away from ground wars and toward smaller operations that combine intelligence and special-operations capabilities.  Such a strategy relies heavily on cooperation from host governments, and as the CIA’s Iraq experience shows, cooperation can wane even where the U.S. has invested billions of dollars and lost thousands of lives.  The Iraqi government, including Iraq’s intelligence service, has scaled back its counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. as it asserts its sovereignty, U.S. officials say.  “If you don’t have that cooperation, you are probably wasting the resources you are allocating there and not accomplishing much,” said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Near East analyst.

Backers of the drawdown say al Qaeda in Iraq doesn’t pose a direct threat to the U.S  [as they are involved in the battle for Syria?]. “This is what success is supposed to be like,” said a senior U.S. official who has worked closely with the Iraqis. “Of course we don’t want to have the same number of people after all U.S. troops go home that we had at the height of the war.”  A senior Obama administration official said the U.S. is in the process of “right-sizing” its presence in Iraq. Both President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have “made very clear that we’re going to continue to have a close and strong security partnership,” this official said.

The planned reductions at the CIA represent a major shift from the approach under consideration just six months ago. Late last year, the CIA and Pentagon were considering several options for CIA and special-operations commandos to team up in Iraq, according to current and former officials. One option was to have special-operations forces operate under covert CIA authority, similar to the arrangement used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.  “There was a general consensus,” said a former intelligence official, “that there was a need for this in Iraq.” But as it became clear that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and that the Iraqi government was less inclined to accept an expansive CIA-special operations role, those plans were tabled. “It’s not going to happen,” said a U.S. official.  Iraq requires CIA officers to make appointments to meet with officials who were previously easily accessible, one of several obstacles that add to a mood of growing distance between the sides. The result is a degraded U.S. awareness about the activities of al Qaeda in Iraq, particularly at a tactical level, officials said.  “Half of our situational awareness is gone,” said one U.S. official.

Iraqi officials said they continue to cooperate with the U.S. on counterterrorism. Hassan Kokaz, deputy head of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s intelligence service, said the U.S. may be adjusting to the new “state-to-state” relationship between the countries since the military withdrawal in December.  “We have asked them to wear civilian clothes and not military uniforms and to be searched when they visit Iraqi institutions,” he said. “Perhaps they are not used to this.”  In the northern oil city of Kirkuk, police are pursuing al Qaeda-linked militants without needing U.S. special-operations forces or the CIA, said Gen. Sarhad Qadir, a local police commander.

Another senior Iraqi security official, however, said Iraqis don’t have the necessary surveillance and other technical capabilities. Iraqi forces also are plagued by clashing sectarian and political loyalties, the official added. “We need the Americans because they were able to work with all the [Iraqi] forces without exception,” he said.  The CIA drawdown would recalibrate the agency’s responsibility in the country away from counterterrorism operations and back toward traditional intelligence collection, with a sharpened focus on neighboring Iran, officials say. Baghdad will remain one of the agency’s largest stations, they say; Kabul is currently the largest. 

Excerpt, SIOBHAN GORMAN And ADAM ENTOUS, CIA Prepares Iraq Pullback, Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2012