Tag Archives: CIA Yemen

All for the Hard Drive

The Pentagon has quietly ordered new commando deployments to the Middle East and North Africa amid an unprecedented series of American airstrikes in Yemen, counterterrorism officials tell ABC News.  The moves appear to signal that the U.S. military is kicking off a more aggressive counterterrorism campaign… against Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS strongholds in Syria and areas in North Africa.

The Trump administration in late January 2017 launched the first known ground force operation in Yemen in two years followed by an unprecedented two-dozen or more airstrikes the first week of March 2017 targeting al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, including airstrikes March 2, 2017 night. This week also saw the killing of al-Qaeda’s overall deputy leader in a U.S. drone strike in northwestern Syria….

Un-announced fresh deployments of elite American commando units from the Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEAL teams continue…

But the first known ground force operation in two years on Jan. 28, 2017 raid by the Navy’s “black ops” counterterror unit, SEAL Team Six, came at a high price.  The experienced operators were caught in a withering mountain gunfight with fighters from AQAP, the only terrorist group which has succeeded three times in smuggling sophisticated bombs aboard U.S.-bound jetliners, which were defused before they exploded.

“There were women straight up shooting at the SEALs,” said a counterterrorism official briefed on the fight, describing the unusual battle, which resulted in one SEAL killed in action, some children in the compound killed by crossfire as the SEALs tried to search buildings and then broke contact, leaving the site aboard MV-22 Osprey aircraft. One Osprey had to make a hard landing, which injured three SEALs and the aircraft had to be destroyed in place by the operators….

One computer hard drive and phones containing a wealth of contact information for al-Qaeda operatives around the region were recovered by the SEALs…While the Yemen operation has become politicized in Washington as having “failed,” with some Democrats questioning whether any intelligence gains were worth the high cost of SEAL Ryan Owens’ life, a $75 million aircraft crashed and children killed in crossfire, military analysts continue “docex” — document exploitation — in an eavesdrop-proof sensitive compartmented information facility….

Excerpts from JAMES GORDON MEEK,US special ops step up strikes on al-Qaeda and ISIS, insiders say, Mar. 3, 2017

 

Shopping for Shiny New Toys: The Yemen Files

yeme-mmap-md

On November 25, 2016,  WikiLeaks released the Yemen Files. .The Yemen Files are a collection of more than 500 documents from the United States embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. Comprising more than 200 emails and 300 PDFs, the collection details official documents and correspondence pertaining to the Office for Military Cooperation (OMC) located at the US embassy. The collection spans the period from 2009 until just before the war in Yemen broke out in earnest during March 2015.

Julian Assange said: “The war in Yemen has produced 3.15 million internally displaced persons. Although the United States… is deeply involved in the conduct of the war itself reportage on the war in English is conspicuously rare.”

Yemen is of significant strategic interest as Yemen controls a narrow choke-point to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal through which 11% of the world’s petroleum passes each day. In addition, Yemen borders Saudi Arabia (to the north) and Oman (to the east) and has access to the Arabian Sea, through which another 20% of the world’s petroleum passes from the Strait of Hormuz (including the oil of Saudi Arabia and Iran). Saudi Arabia seeks to control a port in Yemen to avoid the potential constriction of its oil shipments byIran along the Strait of Hormuz or by countries which can control its other oil shipment path along the Red Sea.The Yemen Files offer documentary evidence of the US arming, training and funding of Yemeni forces in the years building up to the war. The documents reveal, among other things, procurement of many different weapon types: aircraft, vessels, vehicles, proposals for maritime border security control and Yemeni procurement of US biometric systems.

See also Yemen File

 

Who is Responsible for the Train Wreck of Yemen

Yemeni Protests April 4, 2011. Image from wikipedia

Secret files held by Yemeni security forces that contain details of American intelligence operations in the country have been looted by Iran-backed militia leaders, exposing names of confidential informants and plans for U.S.-backed counter-terrorism strikes, U.S. officials say.U.S. intelligence officials believe additional files were handed directly to Iranian advisors by Yemeni officials who have sided with the Houthi militias that seized control of Sana, the capital, in September 2014, which led the U.S.-backed president to flee to Aden…. President Obama had hailed Yemen last fall as a model for counter-terrorism operations elsewhere….

Houthi leaders in Sana took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which had worked closely with the CIA and other intelligence agencies, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.

The loss of the intelligence networks, in addition to the escalating conflict, contributed to the Obama administration’s decision to halt drone strikes in Yemen for two months, to vacate the U.S. Embassy in Sana last month and to evacuate U.S. special operations and intelligence teams from a Yemeni air base over the weekend.

The Houthis claimed on March 25, 2015 that they had captured that air base, Al Anad, as new fighting broke out in and around the southern seaport of Aden, the country’s financial hub, where Hadi had taken refuge. Over the weekend, the Houthis seized the central city of Taizz…..Foreign Minister Riad Yassin said Hadi was overseeing the city’s defense from an undisclosed safe location. The Associated Press reported that he had fled the country on a boat….

As the turmoil deepened, Yemen appeared to be descending into a civil war that could ignite a wider regional struggle.,,,Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Yemen to bolster the positions of the Yemeni government against the rapid advance of the Shiite militias,…Saudi Arabia reportedly moved troops, armored vehicles and artillery to secure its border with Yemen, which sits alongside key shipping routes.,,,,

The Houthis and their allies, backed by tanks and artillery, advanced Wednesday to within a few miles of Aden after battles north of the city, officials and witnesses said. Much of the rebels’ heavy weaponry was provided by Yemeni military units that remained loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was toppled in 2012 and is a bitter opponent of Hadi [who is supported by the US]…..

Four U.S. drone strikes have been reported in Yemen this year, according to the Long War Journal, a website that tracks the attacks. That compares with 23 in the first 10 months of 2014. The Houthi takeover of Sana forced a pause in the program. … [T}he Houthis may have captured a “significant portion” of the $500 million in military equipment that the U.S. has given Hadi’s government.The equipment approved included Huey II helicopters, Humvees, M-4 rifles, night-vision goggles, body armor and hand-launched Raven drones….

“It was a train wreck that anyone who knows anything about Yemen could see happening. It seems we put our head in the sand, and the train wreck has happened and now we are saying, ‘How did this happen?’” said Ali Soufan, a former senior FBI agent.

Excerpts from By BRIAN BENNETT AND ZAID AL-ALAYA, Iran-backed rebels loot Yemen files about U.S. spy operations, Associated Press

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

The Drone War in Yemen; surgical strikes or a relentless signature campaign?

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.   Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. CIA Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to use the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.  If approved, the change would probably accelerate a campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen that is already on a record pace, with at least eight attacks in the past four months.  For President Obama, an endorsement of signature strikes would mean a significant, and potentially risky, policy shift. The administration has placed tight limits on drone operations in Yemen to avoid being drawn into an often murky regional conflict and risk turning militants with local agendas into al-Qaeda recruits.  A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, declined to talk about what he described as U.S. “tactics” in Yemen, but he said that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States.”  U.S. officials acknowledge that the standard has not always been upheld. Last year, a U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed the American son of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The teenager had never been accused of terrorist activity and was killed in a strike aimed at other militants.  Some U.S. officials have voiced concern that such incidents could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes.  “How discriminating can they be?” asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen “is joined at the hip” with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country’s government, the official said. “I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war.”  U.S. officials said that the CIA proposal has been presented to the National Security Council and that no decision has been reached. Officials from the White House and the CIA declined to comment.

Proponents of the plan said improvements in U.S. intelligence collection in Yemen have made it possible to expand the drone campaign — and use signature strikes — while minimizing the risk of civilian casualties.  They also pointed to the CIA’s experience in Pakistan. U.S. officials said the agency killed more senior al-Qaeda operatives there with signature strikes than with those in which it had identified and located someone on its kill list.  In Pakistan, the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there,” said a former senior U.S. military official familiar with drone operations.  The agency has cited the Pakistan experience to administration officials in arguing, perhaps counterintuitively, that it can be more effective against al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate if it doesn’t have to identify its targets before an attack. Obama, however, ruled out a similar push for such authority more than a year ago.

The CIA, the National Security Agency and other spy services have deployed more officers and resources to Yemen over the past several years to augment counterterrorism operations that were previously handled almost exclusively by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

The CIA began flying armed drones over Yemen last year after opening a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula. The agency also has worked with the Saudi and Yemeni intelligence services to build networks of informants — much the way it did in Pakistan before ramping up drone strikes there.

The agency’s strategy in Pakistan was centered on mounting a drone campaign so relentless that it allowed no time between attacks for al-Qaeda operatives to regroup. The use of signature strikes came to be seen as critical to achieving that pace.  The approach involved assembling threads of intelligence from multiple sources to develop telltale “signatures” of al-Qaeda activity based on operatives’ vehicles, facilities, communications equipment and patterns of behavior.  A former senior U.S. intelligence official said the CIA became so adept at this that it could tell what was happening inside an al-Qaeda compound — whether a leader was visiting or explosives were being assembled, for example — based on the location and number of security operatives surrounding the site.  The agency might be able to replicate that success in Yemen, the former intelligence official said. But he expressed skepticism that White House officials, including counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, will approve the CIA’s request.  The situation in Pakistan’s tribal territory “is far less ambiguous than in Yemen,” the former official said. “Brennan has been deliberate in making sure targets we hit in Yemen are terrorist targets and not insurgents.”  As a result, the CIA has been limited to “personality” strikes in Yemen, meaning it can fire only in cases where it has clear evidence that someone on its target list is in a drone’s crosshairs.  Often, that requires information from multiple sources, including imagery, cellphone intercepts and informants on the ground….

Which U.S. entity is responsible for each strike remains unclear. In Pakistan, the CIA carries out every drone strike. But in Yemen, the United States has relied on a mix of capabilities, including drones flown by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, as well as conventional military aircraft and warships parked off the coast.  The JSOC has broader authority than the CIA to pursue militants in Yemen and is not seeking permission to use signature strikes, U.S. officials said.

Excerpts, Greg Miller,CIA seeks new authority to expand Yemen drone campaign, Wasthington Post, April 18

See also

Who is the Boss? the CIA or JSOC

The Drone War in Yemen

The CIA Drone Program as a Violation of Human Rights

Who is the Boss, CIA or the JSOC? Drones in Yemen

The Obama administration has significantly increased the frequency of drone strikes and other air attacks against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen in recent months amid rising concern about political collapse there.  Some of the the strikes, carried out by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have been focused in the southern part of the country, where insurgent forces have for the first time conquered and held territory as the Yemeni government continues to struggle against escalating opposition to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule.

Unlike in Pakistan, where the CIA has presidential authorization to launch drone strikes at will, each U.S. attack in Yemen — and those being conducted in nearby Somalia, most recently on Thursday near the southern port city of Kismayo — requires White House approval, senior administration officials said.  The officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter on the record, said intended targets must be drawn from an approved list of key members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula deemed by U.S. intelligence officials to be involved in planning attacks against the West. White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan last week put their number at “a couple of dozen, maybe.”

Although several unconfirmed strikes each week have been reported by local media in Yemen and Somalia, the administration has made no public acknowledgment of the escalated campaign, and officials who discussed the increase declined to provide numbers.  The heightened air activity coincides with the administration’s determination this year that AQAP, as the Yemen-based group is known, poses a more significant threat to the United States than the core al-Qaeda group based in Pakistan. The administration has also concluded that AQAP has recruited at least a portion of the main insurgent group in Somalia, al-Shabab, to its anti-Western cause.

From its initial months in office, the Obama administration has debated whether to extend the air attacks that have proved so effective in Pakistan to the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Military and intelligence officials have long argued in favor of attacks against al-Shabab camps in Somalia, which have been under overhead surveillance for years. Other officials have questioned the legal and moral justification for intervening in what, until recently, has been a largely domestic conflict.

The administration has said its legal authority to conduct such strikes, whether with fixed-wing planes, cruise missiles or drones, derives from the 2001 congressional resolution authorizing attacks against al-Qaeda and protection of the U.S. homeland, as well as the international law of self-defense.“The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qaeda as being restricted solely to ‘hot’ battlefields like Afghanistan,” Brennan said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday night at Harvard Law School. “We reserve the right to take unilateral action if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves.”….

In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, thousands of anti-government protesters have been camping out in what is known as Change Square for several months, demanding an end to Saleh’s rule. The camp has remained quiet for weeks, but Reuters, citing doctors, reported Saturday that soldiers opened fire near the camp overnight and wounded eight protesters. The troops shot in the air to stop demonstrators from trying to expand the area of protest.   As the political conflict drags on, concern has increased over insurgent expansion and future cooperation with whatever government emerges in Yemen…..

Until May, 2011-