[News] Fatah operated intelligence network in Gaza established under the CIA
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jul 30 16:04:32 EDT 2007
Hamas to Show an Improved Hand
Organization Aims to Capitalize
On Intelligence Gains From Gaza Takeover
By CAM SIMPSON in Jerusalem and NEIL KING JR. in Washington
July 30, 2007; Page A4
When the Islamist group Hamas conquered the Gaza
Strip in June it seized an
intelligence-and-military infrastructure created
with U.S. help by the security chiefs of the
Palestinian territory's former ruler.
According to current and former Israeli
intelligence officials, former U.S. intelligence
personnel and Palestinian officials, Hamas has
increased its inventory of arms since the
takeover of Gaza and picked up technical
expertise -- such as espionage techniques -- that
could assist the group in its fight against
Israel or Washington's Palestinian allies, the
Fatah movement founded by Yasser Arafat.
Hamas leaders say they acquired thousands of
paper files, computer records, videos,
photographs and audio recordings containing
valuable and potentially embarrassing
intelligence information gathered by Fatah. For
more than a decade, Fatah operated a vast
intelligence network in Gaza established under
the tutelage of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Hamas leaders are expected as early as tomorrow
to go public with some of the documents and the secrets they hold.
The exact nature of the threat posed by the
intelligence grab in Gaza -- including any damage
to U.S. intelligence operations in the
Palestinian territories and the broader Middle
East -- is difficult to ascertain. U.S. and
Israeli officials generally tried to play down
any losses, saying any intelligence damage is likely minimal.
But a number of former U.S. intelligence
officials, including some who have worked closely
with the Palestinians, said there was ample
reason to worry that Hamas has acquired access to
important spying technology as well as
intelligence information that could be helpful to
Hamas in countering Israeli and U.S. efforts against the group.
"People are worried, and reasonably so, about
what kind of intelligence losses we may have
suffered," said one former U.S. intelligence
official with extensive experience in Gaza.
A U.S. government official said he doubted
serious secrets were compromised in the Gaza
takeover. Other officials said they had no reason
to believe that U.S. spying operations elsewhere
in the Arab world had been compromised.
Close ties between Hamas and the governments of
Iran and Syria also mean that
intelligence-and-spying techniques could be
shared with the main Middle East rivals of the
Bush administration. As the White House prepares
to lead an international effort to bolster
Fatah's security apparatus in the West Bank, the
losses in Gaza stand as an example of how efforts to help Fatah can backfire.
The compromised intelligence Hamas says it now
has ranges widely. The group alleges it has
videos used in a sexual-blackmail operation run
by Washington's allies inside Fatah's security
apparatus. But the group also says it has
uncovered detailed evidence of Fatah-controlled
spying operations carried out in Arab and Muslim
countries for the benefit of the U.S. and other
foreign governments. Hamas also alleges that
Fatah intelligence operatives cooperated with
Israeli intelligence officials to target Islamist leaders for assassination.
"What we have is good enough for us to completely
reveal the practices [of Fatah-controlled
security services], both locally and throughout
the region," said Khalil al Hayya, a senior Hamas
official in Gaza, who has assumed a leading role
on the intelligence issue for the Islamist group.
Michael Scheuer, a former top CIA
counterterrorism analyst who left the agency in
2004, said the U.S. had provided the
Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority with
"substantial help" in training as well as
computers, other equipment and analytical tools.
Other former intelligence officials confirmed
that the U.S. gave Fatah-controlled services
sophisticated intelligence-gathering equipment,
including eavesdropping technology, though these
officials wouldn't provide more precise details about the technology.
This kind of technology, along with the knowledge
it yields, is broadly known in intelligence
circles as "Sigint," which is shorthand for
"signals intelligence." It can include
eavesdropping equipment, devices used for
intercepting radio, microwave and telephone
communications and telemetry technology that
allows the user to pinpoint the location of
someone holding a communication device, such as a cellphone.
"The United States invested a lot of effort in
setting up this system in Gaza -- construction,
filings, the logistics, the
transportation. It was a big operation, and it's
now in the hands of the other side," said Efraim
Halevy, who formerly headed both the Mossad,
which is Israel's foreign-intelligence agency,
and Israel's National Security Council. Mr.
Halevy said, however, that he didn't want to
overemphasize the value of Hamas's potential intelligence gains.
Avi Dichter, Israel's public-security minister
and the former head of Shin Bet, the domestic
intelligence-and-counterterrorism agency, also
said he didn't want to overemphasize the
potential benefits to Hamas. But he confirmed
that the Islamist group seized Sigint technology
and expertise during its Gaza sweep. He declined
to provide specifics, but said it had been
provided by the Americans, the British and the French.
Mr. Dichter, who left the Shin Bet when his
five-year term as its chief ended in 2005, also
said the potential damage goes beyond Hamas's
ability to turn the technology against its
enemies. Now, he said, the militants could gain
an understanding of how such technology is used
against them, allowing them to adopt more sophisticated counter measures.
"It's not only the tools. It's also the
philosophy that's behind them," he said.
Hamas leaders are being vague about the equipment
and technological know-how they captured. Mr.
Hayya said some important former Fatah operatives
in Gaza, all of whom were granted amnesty after
Hamas took over, were now cooperating with the group on intelligence matters.
Easier to assess is the threat posed by the
military hardware Hamas picked up after the
takeover. The militant group seized an arsenal of
arms and munitions captured from U.S.-backed
security forces loyal to Fatah and its leader,
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. Dichter said Hamas gained roughly the same
number of weapons during a few days that it would
have taken the group nearly a year to amass from smuggling operations.
Hamas says it is using the armaments to build a
popular army in Gaza. Israeli intelligence and
security officials estimate the Islamist group
has some 13,000 armed men in Gaza.
As for Fatah's secrets, Hamas leaders say they
grabbed intelligence stashes from three
locations: the headquarters in Gaza City of the
Preventive Security Force; the Palestinian
Authority intelligence headquarters, which were
housed in a Gaza City office known as "Il
Safina," or "the ship"; and a nearby
satellite-intelligence office dubbed, "Il Mashtal," or "the nursery."
As Hamas fighters moved in during their June
sweep across Gaza, Fatah officials burned some
papers and stripped data from computers. But the
Hamas conquest was so quick that significant
caches remained for the taking, according to the militant group.
All three sites were long under the sway of Fatah
strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who first became an
important CIA ally in Gaza in 1996. At the time,
then-CIA director George Tenet began working
openly with Mr. Dahlan and other Palestinian
officials to build up security services aimed at
combating the rise of Hamas and like-minded
extremist groups that rejected the Oslo peace accords.
Through a spokesman, Mr. Tenet declined to
comment on the CIA-Fatah cooperation, his
relationship with Mr. Dahlan or Hamas's gains.
Mr. Dahlan on Thursday formally resigned his
Palestinian Authority post. Mr. Dahlan hasn't
commented publicly since resigning and he
couldn't be located for comment. Associates in
the West Bank said he was abroad.
Mr. Hayya, the senior Hamas leader, said hundreds
of the group's Hamas's operatives have been
culling through and analyzing the intelligence
troves since their seizure, with specialists in
security, forensic accounting and administration
conducting detailed assessments. Significant
portions of these assessments are close to completion, Mr. Hayya said.
Some of the most potentially explosive claims
from Hamas center on the alleged activities
beyond the Gaza Strip of Palestinian agents loyal
to Fatah. Mr. Hayya alleged the CIA utilized
Palestinian agents for covert intelligence
operations in other Middle Eastern countries.
Hamas, he said, now possesses a roadmap detailing
the names and actions of "those men whom thought
were going to continue to be their hand across the region."
Some former U.S. intelligence officials who
worked closely with the Palestinian Authority
confirmed that such overseas spying arrangements
beyond Gaza existed with the Palestinians in the
past and said they likely continued, bolstering
the credibility of Hamas's claims.
Whitley Bruner, a longtime CIA officer in the
Middle East, recalled that "some of our first
really good information on [Osama] bin Laden in
Sudan" in the early 1990s "came from Palestinian
sources." Before leaving the agency in 1997, Mr.
Bruner participated in many of the first
cooperative sessions organized by Mr. Tenet
between the CIA and the Palestinians.
"It's not unlikely that continued to do things
for the U.S. well beyond the territories," Mr.
Bruner said. "Palestinians are embedded all over
the place, so they have access to things that the U.S. doesn't."
Others are more circumspect. Bruce Reidel, who
worked for nearly 30 years as a U.S. Middle East
specialist, both as a CIA intelligence officer
and as an adviser to Presidents Clinton and Bush,
said there is sure to be "quite a treasure trove
of materials that would document relationship
with the CIA." Mr. Reidel said during his time in
government, which ended in 2005, "the
Palestinians were always trying to prove that
they had unique access and information," but he
said he was skeptical of Hamas's claims that such
operations ventured far beyond Gaza and the West Bank.
Mr. Hayya alleges that while many officials from
Arab and Muslim nations knew Mr. Dahlan was
cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies
inside the Palestinian territories, many of those
same leaders "are going to be amazed and
surprised when they discover had actually worked
against them for the Americans." He wouldn't
directly answer a question about which nations
were allegedly being spied on, but he said Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had the
most to be concerned about from potential disclosures.
Jabril Rajoub, a Fatah rival to Mr. Dahlan who
was long his West Bank counterpart and most
recently served as Mr. Abbas's national security
adviser, said he was aware of the alleged
outlines of these operations, though he said he
was unaware of their details. He called the
Gaza-based network a "for-hire" intelligence
operation, adding that it was active around the
Middle East and provided information to the Americans, the British and others.
Mr. Hayya also said there is a substantial amount
of evidence detailing cooperation between Fatah
and Israel. There is evidence several militant
leaders were targeted as a result of such
cooperation, he alleged. This includes
circumstantial evidence that he was personally
targeted in an Israeli assassination attempt
after he was fingered by Fatah intelligence officers as a top security threat.
After taking over Gaza, Mr. Hayya said Hamas
recovered notes from a meeting of senior
Palestinian Authority intelligence officials in
which they discussed Mr. Hayya's value to the
Islamist group. On May 20, less than a week after
the meeting, an Israeli missile was fired into
his home, killing eight people. Mr. Hayya was en
route at the time, but says the strike came about
five minutes after his 35-year-old cousin,
Ibrahim, entered the home. The Hamas leader said
he and his cousin look very similar.
"They thought it was me," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Shin Bet declined to comment.
Write to Cam Simpson at
<mailto:cam.simpson at wsj.com>cam.simpson at wsj.com
and Neil King Jr. at <mailto:neil.king at wsj.com>neil.king at wsj.com
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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