New at SpyTalk: SpyWeek
In our inaugural edition, we eyeball the Discord Leaks, a Chinese spy mystery, Section 702, Israeli assassinations, a sex trap in Tysons, and hotel tips from the CIA.
Welcome to our new weekly newsletter, where we look at news from the intersection of intelligence, foreign policy and military operations.
More Discord: You’ve probably heard by now that 15 members of the Air National Guard were disciplined in the wake of an internal investigation that found a “lack of supervision” and a “culture of complacency” that allowed a 21-year-old airman to share classified information online. Jack Teixeira accessed hundreds of documents on the night shift (where he was supposed to monitor the HVAC system) and posted them to Discord, a social media platform. “Teixeira might as well have been a guy mopping the floors at night, sitting down for a smoke break, opening an unlocked cabinet, grabbing a pile of Top Secret documents, and sharing them with his drinking buddies at a dive bar in Falmouth,” SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein wrote this week. The case was the subject of PBS’ Frontline investigation that aired Tuesday and explored how a young man with a history of racist and extremist online behavior got a top-secret clearance (still a mystery to us). The colonel running Teixeria’s unit, the 102nd Intelligence Wing, was relieved of command, The Washington Post reported, while others who blithely ignored, tolerated, or failed to report Teixeira’s larceny were handed administrative wrist-slaps.
Beijing Spy Jitters Is a U.S. espionage coup behind the removal of former Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang? SpyTalk’s Matt Brazil explored the spy rumors swirling around Qin’s disappearance in July. Now the Asia Sentinel, an independent, English-language Substack based in California, reports that Qin’s absence is connected to Beijing’s broader investigation into a suspected leak of China’s missile secrets to the U.S. “When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, Putin disclosed to Xi that former Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang played a role in the leak of China’s missile secrets to the U.S.” Asia Sentinel reported. Two unnamed sources told Asia Sentinel that Qin was actually executed “a few months ago,” but the site says it could not verify the claim. “The longer someone in the leadership is out of sight, the more serious is their likely fate,” Nicholas Eftimiades, a former CIA and DIA China analyst, told SpyTalk.
Sex Trap: Typically, in prostitution cases, the clients remain free while the sex workers and their bosses see the clink. But a number of U.S. government-employed clients of a Korean sex-for-hire business that’s been accused of operating “high end” brothels in Tysons, Virginia, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, may at least see their career paths ripped up by their indiscretion. Sources tell SpyTalk’s Jeff Stein that investigators are in the early stages of reaching out to agencies that employ the johns, who include “military officers, government contractors, professors [and] scientists,” according to Joshua Levy, the acting U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.
Others are said to include “elected officials, high-tech and pharmaceutical executives, doctors, attorneys and accountants.” A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office told SpyTalk that the sex workers are being treated as victims of a trafficking operation, whose managers required customers to present government IDs for service and kept meticulous records. Tysons is ground zero for some very sensitive intelligence units. No evidence has surfaced, though, of a foreign adversary’s connection to the brothel op.
702 Watch: Congress approved a four-month extension of the powerful but controversial surveillance program known as Section 702, which was set to expire on December 31. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorizes U.S. counterterrorism agencies to gather communications from U.S.-based tech companies in which a foreigner based overseas is on one end of the conservation. The intelligence community says Section 702 “saves lives” and serves up more than half of the items in the President’s Daily Brief, but conservatives and civil rights advocates say the surveillance program needs to be reformed before extending the program past April. The FBI improperly used Section 702 to spy on a Trump campaign aide; George Floyd; protesters; individuals tied to the January 6 attack on the Capitol; and donors to a congressional campaign, among others. Hardliners in Congress, led by the House Freedom Caucus, failed to muster enough votes to block the extension tucked in the $886 billion defense authorization bill.
702 Watch, Part II: The temporary extension of Section 702 puts off for now a simmering dispute in Congress over how to reauthorize the program. This month, the House advanced two bills that show widely different views on Section 702. The House Judiciary Committee approved HR 6570, which would require intelligence agencies and the FBI to obtain a warrant before conducting any query of a U.S. person. A bipartisan group of 44 former national security officials wrote Congress to warn of the bill’s “devastating impacts” on HR 6570 on national security. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence advanced HR 6611, which civil rights advocates say vastly expands the universe of US businesses that can be conscripted to aid the government in conducting surveillance. The bill would change the definition of “electronic communication service provider” to include any “equipment” used to “transmit or store” communications. “Hotels, libraries, coffee shops, and other places that offer wifi to their customers could be forced to serve as surrogate spies,” Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote on X (Twitter.)
Zelensky’s Visit: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington this week failed to sway U..S. lawmakers blocking additional military aid to repel Russia’s ongoing invasion. Republicans in the House and Senate are holding up a $110 billion military aid package for Ukraine and Israel by demanding charges in U.S. border policy. “If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique,” Zelensky said at the National Defense University in Washington. Arming Ukraine is a priority at Langley. CIA Director Bill Burns has made several trips to Ukraine to reinforce the U.S. commitment to provide support to Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression. Without more aid, Zelensky reportedly said his forces may have to retreat into a “guerrilla war” strategy.
Rise and Kill Again: The Israeli daily Haaretz did its own analysis of Israel’s policy of assassinating its enemies, which had been addressed in several recent pieces by SpyTalk contributor Jonathan Broder. In the wake of a leaked recording that captured the head of the Shin Bet vowing to hunt down Hamas leaders, veteran intelligence reporter Yossi Melman writes that Israel’s intelligence community suffers from “groupthink” that has gotten them stuck with a failed policy. Fifty years of history have proven that targeted killings aren’t the answer, but it’s the only button Israel’s security establishment knows how to press. An old-boy network and revolving door between the security establishment and the country’s main think tanks and media studios perpetuate this ossified thinking.
SpyTalk Goes to Hollywood: A new film based on a book co-written by SpyTalk contributor Gus Russo is in the works. Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale are inked to star in Best of Enemies, a film based on the 2018 book Russo co-wrote with Eric Dezenhall about the unlikely friendship of CIA officer Jack Platt and KGB agent Gennady Vasilenko, a relationship that helped expose the Soviet mole, Robert Hanssen. Don’t expect to see Vaslilenko making any red-carpet appearances, though. He’s been incommunicado, and in very bad health, for three years. Many of his intelligence colleagues fear he may have been another victim of Putin’s poisonous revenge against perceived traitors. His family has insulated him from all of his past friends.
And in other news…
Assume the room is bugged for audio and video.
Don't make a fuss if the local security system does anything to the room.
Travel with a doorstop wedge. Room locks are easily bypassed.
Book a room between the 4th and 10th floors. The first three floors are susceptible to car bombs. Fire ladders can’t reach above the 10th floor.
Seth Hettena, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, writes about national security and politics from San Diego. He is writing a book about the Navy SEALs and the CIA in Iraq.
Is there something we missed? Or something you would like to see more of? Send your tips, corrections, and thoughts to SpyTalk@protonmail.com.
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