Category: Spooks

San Diego’s Spook Shop

Along Interstate 5 in San Diego just south of the airport, lies a hulking building with blacked out windows and a roof that looks like a long silver saw blade. The site of a former B-24 factory during World War II, this giant piece of corrugated metal is the home of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command or SPAWAR.

I’ve long been interested in SPAWAR (pronounced spā-wôr) mostly because exactly what it does is a bit of a mystery. Its mission is “enabling information warfare superiority” for our Naval and military forces. Operating with a $2.5 billion budget, SPAWAR employs more than 2,000 scientists, specializing in areas such as cyberwarfare, information warfare and space systems. SPAWAR’s chief technology officer holds over 100 patents. I have no idea what that all means, but it sounds like they do some very interesting stuff.

About three years ago, in the midst of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency, I learned that the Defense Department’s Inspector General had conducted a Top Secret investigation into allegations involving SPAWAR’s “access to U.S. persons data.”

That phrase “U.S. persons data” caught my eye. Under federal law, our intelligence agencies cannot spy on U.S. persons, i.e. American citizens. The misuse of “U.S. persons data” is intelspeak for spying on Americans so I filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the report.

The 37-page heavily redacted report I received began as a whistleblower complaint filed in December 2006 by an unnamed government employee. This employee claimed he was mistreated and ultimately reassigned after reporting that SPAWAR had misused classified information involving U.S. persons, which is forbidden under U.S. law.

Of the two main allegations cited in the report, one remains classified under a FOIA b(1) exemption, which involves matters of national security. The whistleblower’s second allegation was that SPAWAR personnel had been in the words of the report “photographing U.S. persons.”

There are several allegations involving misuse of imagery at SPAWAR in the report, most of which are completely or partially redacted.

The only one that is readable is a charge that SPAWAR had been collecting data without notice, warrant or authority “on U.S. persons in federal parks located at Point Loma,” a hilly peninsula in San Diego.

This allegation involved a camera is mounted on a tower at SPAWAR’s command HQ, located on the southern tip of Point Loma, adjacent to Cabrillo National Monument, which is operated by the National Parks Service. The camera, which can be rotated 360 degrees, is used for calibration purposes by pointing it at different government radars, the IG’s investigation found. The video feed from the camera goes to a laboratory and is not stored.

The IG also looked for inappropriate images on another imagery system, details of which remain classified on national security grounds. The system was tested at a site on Point Loma overlooking San Diego Harbor on the USS Dolphin, a research submarine, after it had been repaired for fire damage.

Other allegations involving satellite imagery or other technologies are heavily redacted.

The investigation by the DoD’s Inspector General did not substantiate the whistleblower’s complaints that SPAWAR was mishandling intelligence and possibly compromising U.S. persons information. The Inspector General did, however, partially substantiate the allegation that SPAWAR had failed to move quickly to correct deficiencies in its handling of intelligence information. The whistleblower had not been subject to reprisals, the IG’s investigation found.

What the report makes clear is that SPAWAR is a spook shop. It does R&D work for various components of the U.S. intelligence community. Some of the imagery allegations involved an R&D project for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Officials with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the National Reconnaissance Agency (NRO), which runs spy satellites, and one agency whose name was blacked out were interview for the IG’s report.

San Diego FBI, Nidal Hasan, and the Webster Report

An independent commission headed by Judge William Webster, the former director of both the CIA and the FBI, has released its long-awaited report into the November 9, 2009 Fort Hood shootings. A copy of the report can be viewed here.

The report’s most damning is the refusal in May 2009, FBI officials in the Washington Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)  to interview the Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, who was communicating with terrorist Anwar al-Awlaqi. The DC JTTF officials also decided not to interview Maj. Hasan’s Army superiors because that “might harm Hasan’s military career.”

This infuriated the FBI agents in San Diego who were handling the Awlaqi-Hasan investigation. Even after San Diego complained, Washington still refused to get off its ass.

According to the report, the a Defense Criminal Investigative Service agent in San Diego  handling the investigation told his Washington Field Office (WFO) counterpart that “upon receiving a lead like this one, San Diego would have conducted, at the least, an interview of the subject.” (See p. 60)

According to the San Diego DCIS agent, the JTTF agent in Washington replied something along the lines of:  “This is not SD [San Diego], it’s DC and WFO doesn’t go out and interview every Muslim guy who visits extremist websites.”

The San Diego FBI agent also recalled that the Washington agent indicated that this subject is “politically sensitive for WFO.”

Not surprisingly, the JTTF agent in DC doesn’t recall this conversation. The report doesn’t reveal whether the FBI agent(s) in the Washington Field Office (WFO) who refused to interview Major Hasan ecause it would have been “politically sensitive” received any disciplinary actions.

There is nothing about this in today’s print edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune, although Fred Willard’s porn theatre bust is there on p. 2. Remind me again why I subscribe to this newspaper?

San Diego Island to Become ‘Battle Lab’

Via Defense News:

The HALO Corp., San Diego-based  organization founded by former Special Operations, National Security, and Intelligence personnel, which is hosting its sixth annual Counter-Terrorism Summit at the end of October at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa in San Diego.

Strategic Operations of San Diego, will help conduct tactical training exercises on the island. This should include a recreated Middle Eastern village, battlefield effects, combat wounds and medical simulations. Participants can also expect a simulated Somali pirate invasion to grace the resort’s shores. Unmanned aerial vehicles are likely to be floating overhead as well.

Keynote speakers include former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden; Alejandro Romero, Mexico’s interior secretary and Michael Downing, the director of LAPD’s counter-terrorism and special ops bureau. Cool classes will be offered like Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking by Chris Hadnagy. (Highly recommend his book).

I’d love to go, but it’s $1000 a person.

Mexican SIGINT

Mexico has been having a lot of success capturing the leaders of drug cartels.

U.S. agents cannot operate in Mexico. Nevertheless, many successful captures of important cartel figures are often backed by gringo assistance,  according a secret State Department cable released by Wikileaks,

What sort of assistance? This interesting study “Sever: SIGINT and Criminal Netwar Networks”  (.pdf) details the critical but unheralded role played by signals intelligence (SIGINT), commonly known as wiretapping and eavesdropping, in targeting Mexico’s drug cartels.

Buried  the $1.4 billion Merida anti-drug initiative is a little-known,  $3-million SIGINT system that is paid for by the U.S. taxpayer.

The Communications Intercept System in Mexico’s Federal government was installed by Verint Systems Inc., a politically well-connected firm based in Melville, N.Y. and paid for by the U.S. State Department. 

The system “can monitor almost any form of electronic communication in Mexico.”

The Communications Intercept System’s central monitoring station has real time and off- line playback, fax and packet data decoding, stores all calls for at least 25,000 hours, and has cellular location and tracking. The database in the monitoring station can accommodate 8,000,000 sessions, and monitor and record 60 calls simultaneously. Four facsimiles can also be decoded simultaneously. The monitoring station is a joint Mexico-U.S. network.

Specific tools of analysis are also included in the system. Voice data banks are used for analysis, comparison, recognition and identification. The system has the ability to analyze calls and automatically generate links between them. Additionally, the system has the tools necessary to track cellular targets on a map.

Surveillance by the Drug Enforcement Administration led to the capture in 2010 of Teodoro “El Teo” Garcia Simental, a lieutenant in the Tijuana cartel, in La Paz. El Teo was responsible for hundreds of killings and kidnappings over a two year reign of terror.

Before his death in 2009, cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva was overheard talking to  prostitutes on his cell phone before a raid. The capture of members of his network had also created the paranoia which led to his split from the Sinaloa Cartel, and its boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.

Another sign that SIGINT has been effective was found in a raid last year of a compound used by the Zetas, one of the better organized drug operations, where officials found encryption equipment and mobile radio transmitters the cartel was using to communicate and coordinate its operations.

Awlaki FBI FOIA Request

October 4, 2011

David M. Hardy
Section Chief, Record/Information Dissemination Section
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Attn: FOI/PA Request
170 Marcel Drive
Winchester, VA 22602-4843

Dear Mr. Hardy:

This letter constitutes a request (“Request”) pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. subsection 552.

I am requesting a copy of all records or information concerning ANWAR AL-AWLAKI (aka Anwar al-Aulaqi).

Mr. Awlaki was born in 1971 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was killed in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011, according to a statement President Barack Obama made the same day. I trust the attached statement of the president will serve as the proof of death you require for this request.

Awlaki was a leader in al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and was one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. He was the subject of numerous investigations by the FBI for more than a decade.

If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your refusal to release the information and notify me of appeal procedures available under the law. I expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material.

I look forward to your reply to this Request within twenty (20) business days as required by 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(A)(i).

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

Seth Hettena