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‘Russian diplomats in US threatened by FBI, CIA’

According to the NDTV reports, The CIA, US Intelligence and the U.S. State Department did not respond to the allegations…reports Asian Lite News

Russia’s ambassador in US alleged that Russian diplomats in US are being threatened with violence and U.S. intelligence services try to establish contact with them.

Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov said that since Russia invaded Ukraine, face-to-face meetings with U.S. officials had ended, NDTV reported.

“It’s like a besieged fortress. Basically, our embassy is operating in a hostile environment … Embassy employees are receiving threats, including threats of physical violence,” NDTV quoted him as saying.

“Agents from U.S. security services are hanging around outside the Russian embassy, handing out CIA and FBI phone numbers, which can be called to establish contact,” He added.

According to the NDTV reports, The CIA, US Intelligence and the U.S. State Department did not respond to the allegations.

Meanwhile, Moscow has demanded that the United States immediately stop persecuting Russian journalists and provide them with normal working conditions, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Friday.

“We demand that the trampling upon Russian journalists be immediately stopped and that they be allowed to work under normal conditions, in accordance with the standards of freedom of speech that Washington loves to tout so hypocritically,” Zakharova said in a statement.

The spokeswoman said that more restrictions are being constantly imposed on the Russian journalists accredited in the US to make their work more difficult or to intimidate them into leaving.

Zakharova said that the US continues its “Russophobic witch-hunt” of pressuring “unwanted journalists” using security services into covering events in a way that benefits Washington.

She noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently attempted twice to involve a head of a Russian correspondent office in Washington in “compromising cooperation,” saying it was yet another example of the unprecedented pressure Russian journalists have to face.

Meanwhile, the United States has targeted 8 Sberbank executives and 27 Gazprombank executives, as well as Moscow Industrial Bank and its ten subsidiaries in its latest sanctions package, the White House announced in its Fact Sheet on Sunday.

“The United States also sanctioned eight executives from Sberbank- the largest financial institution in Russia and uniquely important to the Russian economy, holding about a third of all bank assets in Russia; twenty-seven executives from Gazprombank – a prominent Russian bank facilitating business by Russia’s Gazprom, one of the largest natural gas exporters in the world; and Moscow Industrial Bank and its ten subsidiaries,” the Fact Sheet said.

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CIA picks Indian-origin Nand Mulchandani as tech chief

Prior to joining CIA, Mulchandani most recently served as the CTO and Acting Director of DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center….reports Asian Lite News

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William J. Burns announced the appointment of Nand Mulchandani to serve as the US spy agency’s first-ever Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

With more than 25 years’ experience working in Silicon Valley as well as the Department of Defense (DoD), Mulchandani brings substantial private sector, startup, and government expertise to CIA, CIA said in a statement.

As the CTO, Mulchandani will ensure the Agency is leveraging cutting-edge innovations and scanning the horizon for tomorrow’s innovations to further CIA’s mission. “Since my confirmation, I have prioritised focusing on technology and the new CTO position is a very important part of that effort. I am delighted Nand has joined our team and will bring his extensive experience to this crucial new role,” said Burns.

Prior to joining CIA, Mulchandani most recently served as the CTO and Acting Director of DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. He also co-founded and was CEO of several successful startups Oblix (acquired by Oracle), Determina (acquired by VMWare), OpenDNS (acquired by Cisco), and ScaleXtreme (acquired by Citrix).

He has a degree in Computer Science and Math from Cornell, a Master of Science degree in Management from Stanford, and a Master in Public Administration degree from Harvard.

“I am honoured to join CIA in this role and look forward to working with the Agency’s incredible team of technologists and domain experts who already deliver world-class intelligence and capabilities to help build a comprehensive technology strategy that delivers exciting capabilities working closely with industry and partners,” said Mulchandani.

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CIA chief says Xi ‘unsettled’ by Russia’s Ukraine invasion

The reality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the targeting of civilians and displacement of millions of Ukrainians, may have shifted China’s calculus…reports Asian Lite News

CIA Director William J. Burns hinted at a potentially tenuous China-Russia relationship in the wake of Moscow’s increasingly brutal tactics against Ukraine, with Burns telling the Senate Intelligence Committee that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is “unsettled”.

“The Chinese leadership, first, has invested a lot in partnership with Russia, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon,” Burns said during the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual worldwide threats hearing. “I do however believe that the Chinese leadership, President Xi in particular, is unsettled by what he’s seeing, partly because his own intelligence doesn’t appear to have told him what was going to happen.”

Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a 5,000-word joint statement ahead of the Winter Olympics last month outlining how the two nations approached different issues, with the statement released following a meeting of the leaders in Beijing. The New York Times reported last week that Chinese officials asked the Russian government to hold off on invading Ukraine until the end of the Winter Olympics.

But the reality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the targeting of civilians and displacement of millions of Ukrainians, may have shifted China’s calculus.

At the committee’s hearing, Burns pointed to Xi’s concerns over reputational damage to China by its association with Russia, potential economic consequences and the invasion resulting in bringing the U.S. and its European allies closer together.

“What has unfolded in Ukraine, the ugliness of it, the flawed assumptions that underpinned it from the point of view of President Putin, have unsettled the Chinese leadership a little bit, they are unsettled by the reputational damage that could come from that,” Burns said.

The CIA Director also said the Russian President may be overestimating to the extent that Chinese leadership will be able or willing to help him deal with severe economic consequences of military action in Ukraine.

“It remains to be seen how it will play out,” he added.

Burns’s remarks come a few days after the US threat assessment report had said that it expects that Moscow will remain a formidable challenge to Washington amidst the changing geopolitical landscape during the next decade.

“We assess that Russia does not want a direct conflict with U.S. forces. Russia seeks an accommodation with the United States on mutual non-interference in both countries’ domestic affairs and U.S. recognition of Russia’s claimed sphere of influence over much of the former Soviet Union,” the report added.

It further stated that Russia’s officials have long believed that the United States is trying to undermine Russia, weaken Putin, and install Western-friendly regimes in the former Soviet states and elsewhere, which they conclude gives Russia leeway to retaliate. (ANI)

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CIA announces new unit focusing on China

Emphasizing that the threat is from the Chinese government, Director Burns said that the new Mission Center will bring a whole-of-Agency response and unify the exceptional work CIA is already doing against “this key rival,” reports Asian Lite News

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has announced the setting up of a new China Mission Center to confront threats from Beijing and address the global challenge posed to the United States.

“Director William Burns announced the formation of a China Mission Center (CMC) to address the global challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China that cuts across all of the Agency’s mission areas,” CIA said in a statement.

Emphasizing that the threat is from the Chinese government, Director Burns said that the new Mission Center will bring a whole-of-Agency response and unify the exceptional work CIA is already doing against “this key rival.”

The statement said that these changes resulted from the strategic reviews Director Burns launched this past spring that focused on areas including China, technology, people, and partnerships.

Burns emphasised that the CIA will continue to focus sharply on other important threats, including an aggressive Russia, a provocative North Korea and a hostile Iran, as well as combatting terrorism.

“The changes Director Burns unveiled also include a new position, the Chief Technology Officer, as well as a Transnational and Technology Mission Center, which will address global issues critical to US competitiveness–including new and emerging technologies, economic security, climate change, and global health,” he said.

Director Burns told the CIA workforce said that throughout its history, the CIA has stepped up to meet whatever challenges that come their way. “And now facing our toughest geopolitical test in a new era of great power rivalry, CIA will be at the forefront of this effort.”

CIA lost dozens of informants

Leading counterintelligence officials issued a memo to all of the CIA’s global stations saying that a concerning number of U.S. informants were being captured and executed., according to The New York Times.

The CIA’s counterintelligence mission center investigated dozens of incidents in the last few years that involved killings, arrests or compromises of foreign informants. In an unusual move, the message sent via a top secret cable included the specific number of agents killed by other intelligence agencies, according to The New York Times.

Top American counterintelligence officials — in an unusual top-secret cable — said that the CIA’s counterintelligence mission centre had looked at dozens of cases in the last several years involving foreign informants who had been killed, arrested or most likely compromised, reported The New York Times.

The cable also noted the specific number of agents executed by rival intelligence agencies. Usually, these specific details are not shared in such cables.

Highlighting the struggle of the CIA, the cable stressed that the agency is having issues as it works to recruit spies worldwide in difficult operating environments.

Recently, adversarial intelligence services in countries such as Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have been hunting down the CIA’s sources and in some cases turning them into double agents, said The New York Times.

The cable also acknowledged that recruiting spies is a high-risk business. It also emphasised that in recent years, various issues have plagued the agency such as poor tradecraft, being too trusting of sources, underestimating foreign intelligence agencies, and moving too quickly to recruit informants while not paying enough attention to potential counterintelligence risks — a problem the cable called placing “mission over security”, according to New York Times.

Various compromised informants have highlighted the growing prowess of other countries in employing innovations like biometric scans, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and hacking tools to track the movements of CIA officers in order to discover their sources.

The CIA has many ways to collect intelligence but networks of trusted human informants around the world remain the centrepiece of its efforts, the kind of intelligence that the agency is supposed to be the best in the world at collecting and analysing.

Former officials have said that the CIA case officers — its frontline spies — earn promotions through recruiting new informants.

In the last two decades, the CIA had been devoted to terrorist threats and the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But now again a centrepiece of the CIA’s agenda has been to improve intelligence collection on adversarial powers, both great and small, particularly as policymakers demand more insight into China and Russia. The loss of informants, former officials said, is not a new problem. But the cable demonstrated the issue is more urgent than is publicly understood, according to New York Times.

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CIA Chief Holds Crucial Meetings With Pak, India

It is said that the main purpose of the CIA chief’s visit to Pakistan and India was because Islamabad remained an ally to the US in the war on terror, and the US proposed increased influence and presence of India in Afghanistan, when it announced its South Asia policy under the Donald Trump administration, reports Hamza Ameer

In view of the developing situation in Afghanistan with the interim Taliban government being questioned broadly by the western countries, including the US, CIA Director Willian Burns flew to Pakistan and India recently to have important meetings and consultations on the way forward for the war-torn nation.

During his stay in Pakistan, Burns met the head of the army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the Intelligence chief, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed.

CIA
Pakistani Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa

“It was reiterated that Pakistan remains committed to cooperate with its international partners for peace in the region, ensuring a stable and prosperous future for the Afghan people,” read a press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in Pakistan.

However, the situation is not as bright as it is reported. It is said that the main purpose of the CIA chief’s visit to Pakistan and India was because Islamabad remained an ally to the US in the war on terror, and the US proposed increased influence and presence of India in Afghanistan, when it announced its South Asia policy under the Donald Trump administration.

Pakistan is playing an important role in the evacuation of foreign nationals from Afghanistan and became a vital destination when the US and other NATO troops were evacuated from Kabul during the troop withdrawal process.

Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence Faiz Hameed.

Since the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, countries like Turkey, Qatar, Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan are converging in Afghanistan with constant consultations and active contacts with the Taliban regime, an alliance-based convergence that is raising serious concerns in Washington.

The Joe Biden administration has stated that it would keep a close eye on the developing situation in Afghanistan, insisting that if would take out terror hideouts through drone strikes at the time of its choosing and whenever needed.

It should be noted that US drone strike claimed the lives of at least 10 members of a family, including children, as it targeted a vehicle carrying an alleged Islamic State (IS) member. The drone strike was carried out after the deadly blast at the Kabul airport that claimed the lives of hundreds of Afghans and dozens of US troops. The attack was claimed by ISIS-K (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – Khorasan).

Afghans protest in New Delhi against Taliban atrocities in Kabul

Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid slammed the US for carrying out the drone strike, which he said claimed the lives of innocent civilians, adding that the US has no right to carry out attacks in Afghanistan anymore.

“If there was any potential threat in Afghanistan, it should have been reported to us, not an arbitrary attack that has resulted in civilian casualties,” he said.

The CIA chief’s agenda seems to be on the same lines, as he met with the top military brass of Pakistan and India and discussed security concerns linked to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

However, it is believed that the US is trying to keep its influence in Afghanistan alive through intelligence sharing through Pakistan and eyes on ground through India as it sees Afghanistan being wrapped with its important opponents from the region.

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Ex-CIA station chief channelled contract on behalf of Pakistan

Robert Laurent Grenier who was CIA Station Chief in Islamabad opened a Lobby Firm Grenier Consulting LLC in 2020. And within a year, he is awarded a Lobbying contract on behalf of Pakistan…reports Sanjeev Sharma

 Robert Laurent Grenier who was CIA Station Chief in Islamabad was given a lobbying contract on behalf of Pakistan after he founded his own firm.

Robert Laurent Grenier is a former CIA official, who was CIA Station Chief in Islamabad, Pakistan (2001-02) — right in the center of storm post 9/11. In 2002 he was promoted to the chief of the Iraq Issues Group, where he helped coordinate covert operations in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Grenier served as Director, CIA’s Counter-terrorist Center for about a year, but was fired from that position on February 6, 2006 by the Director of the National Clandestine Service Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr in the CIA leak case and Libby trial.

Grenier was identified in court documents in connection with the CIA leak grand jury investigation and charges against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

CIA (Pic credit:Wikipedia)

In 2009 Grenier was appointed Chairman of ERG Partners, an independent financial and strategic advisory firm solely focused on the security and intelligence sectors. He is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Subsequently, Grenier opened a Lobby Firm Grenier Consulting LLC on April 1, 2020. And within a year, in July 2021 he is awarded a Lobbying contract on behalf of Pakistan, signed by Iftikhar Ur Rehman Durrani the then Special Advisor to Pak PM Imran Khan. An advance of $25,000 and another $5,000 for research for six months was given by the Pakistan side, with the clause of renewal of contract in six months, according to an investigation by Disinfo Lab.

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Another contract was given to a firm affiliated to Robin Raphel, a former Diplomat/CIA Analyst/US AID functionary about lobbyist.

Raphel retired in 2005, and soon joined Cassidy & Associates, a Washington based lobby firm as Senior Vice President, heading its Global Affairs and Trade Group. Shortly after she comes on board, Cassidy & Associates bags $1.2 million lobbying contract from Pakistan.

Cassidy subsequently had to cancel the contract after Gen Musharraf declared Martial Law in Pakistan.

In 2013, Raphel was under investigation of FBI based on an intercept of Pakistani officials by FBI, which indicated that Raphel might have been working for Pakistani agencies. FBI had also found unauthorized classified documents at Raphel’s residence, which they suspected were being supplied to a ‘foreign country’. However, in 2016 FBI decided not to pursue the matter further. Raphel is reported to be active again, being one of the major back-channels to Taliban.

Raphel started her carrier with CIA in Iran, and later joined US-Aid Diplomatic Corps as economics analyst till 1978. In 1991, she joined as Political Counselor at US Embassy in New Delhi.

DisinfoLab reported that she is credited with the creation of All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which earned her the moniker of Mother of Hurriyat. She was married to Arnold Raphel, who was US Ambassador to Pakistan (1987-88), and who died in the plane crash with Zia-ul-Haq.

During her stint with US State Department during 1992-96, she worked towards shaping the US Govt policy towards engagement with Taliban. She was also instrumental in ensuring an exception to Pakistan from the Pressler Amendment that banned military export to Pakistan.

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About 100 CIA officers, family members afflicted by ‘Havana Syndrome’

The agency also has shortened from eight weeks to two weeks the time that CIA-affiliated people must wait for admission to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center…reports Asian Lite News

About 100 CIA officers and family members are among some 200 US officials and kin sickened by “Havana syndrome,” CIA Director William Burns said on Thursday, referring to the mysterious set of ailments that include migraines and dizziness.

Burns, tapped by US President Joe Biden as the first career diplomat to serve as CIA chief, said in a National Public Radio interview that he has bolstered his agency’s efforts to determine the cause of the syndrome and what is responsible.

He confirmed that among other steps, he tapped a senior officer who once led the hunt for Osama bin Laden to head a task force investigating the syndrome, and said he tripled the size of the medical team involved in the probe.

The agency also has shortened from eight weeks to two weeks the time that CIA-affiliated people must wait for admission to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he said.

“It’s a profound obligation I think of any leader to take care of your people and that is what I am determined to do,” Burns told NPR in his first interview since becoming CIA director in March.

Havana Syndrome, with symptoms such as dizzines, nausea, migraines and memory lapses, is so named because it first was reported by US officials based in the US embassy in Cuba in 2016.

Burns noted that a US National Academy of Sciences panel in December found that a plausible theory is that “directed energy” beams caused the syndrome. There is a “very strong possibility” that the syndrome is intentionally caused, and that Russia could be responsible, he said, adding that he is withholding definitive conclusions pending further investigation.

Moscow denies involvement.

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CIA plans forward-deployment of China specialists

Burns said the US is no longer the “only big kid” on the geopolitical block, especially with the rise of China…reports Asian Lite News

CIA Director William Burns has said the US is inspecting the possibility of forward-deploying China specialists in a bid to compete effectively with Beijing.

In a wide-ranging interview with NPR, Burns said, “…I am exploring right now, to forward-deploy China specialists – whether it is operations officers, analysts, technologists as well – to make us more effective in that competition, in that rivalry in the field as well.”

Burns said the US is no longer the “only big kid” on the geopolitical block, especially with the rise of China.

He added that China is the biggest geopolitical challenge to the US in the 21st century, and that the technology sector is the biggest area of competition between the two countries.

Speaking on the US drawdown from Afghanistan, Burns said he is troubled by the advances the Taliban movement is making in Afghanistan. “Well, the trend lines that all of us see today are certainly troubling. The Taliban are making significant military advances; they are probably in the strongest military position that they have been in since 2001,” Burns said.

The United States will retain significant capabilities in and around Afghanistan to gather information on terror groups, the CIA Director stressed.

Meanwhile, on the topic of Russia, the CIA Director said the former cold war rival could be behind the “Havana syndrome” affecting the health of US diplomats in Cuba. However, he added that there are no definitive conclusions and various possibilities.

Havana Syndrome is a series of unexplained medical symptoms first experienced by State Department personnel stationed in Cuba beginning in late 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported. Since then, diplomats and other officials stationed around the world have experienced similar symptoms.

Burns said that Russia “Could be, but I honestly cannot – I do not want to suggest until we can draw some more definitive conclusions who it might be. But there are a number of possibilities.”

Similar accusations against Russia have emerged in American media outlets from in the past, with Moscow repeatedly denying them, Sputnik reported. (ANI)

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William Burns confirmed as CIA Director

The Senate on Thursday cleared Burns’ nomination by a voice vote on the floor….reports Asian Lite News

The US Senate has unanimously confirmed William Burns as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), installing an experienced career diplomat to head the spy agency.

The Senate on Thursday cleared Burns’ nomination by a voice vote on the floor.

With his confirmation, President Joe Biden now has his full team of top national security officials in place.

Retiring from the post of Deputy Secretary of State in 2014 after a three-decade career in the foreign service, Burns won bipartisan support after Biden tapped him to lead the CIA, reports Xinhua news agency.

US President Joe Biden

He sailed through the Senate confirmation hearing in February.

Burns’ confirmation came as Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz lifted his hold after the State Department released what Cruz considered to be a welcoming announcement saying the Biden administration would comply with Congress’ legislation sanctioning entities involved in the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany.

At his confirmation hearing last month, Burns stressed that intelligence must not become political.

“That is exactly what President Biden expects of CIA. It was the first thing he told me when he asked me to take on this role,” he added.

“He said he wants the agency to give it to him straight — and I pledged to do just that, and to defend those who do the same.”

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