Senior Officials Wave Their SIGINT Around

You’ve probably already read this story detailing how Hosni Mubarak used his 18 day delay in resigning to rob the Egyptian people. While the whole thing is worth a read, I wanted to point out how a senior Western intelligence official makes a point of revealing that we’ve been aware of conversations among Mubarak’s thieving family members.

But a senior Western intelligence source claimed that Mubarak had begun moving his fortune in recent weeks.

We’re aware of some urgent conversations within the Mubarak family about how to save these assets,” said the source, “And we think their financial advisers have moved some of the money around. If he had real money in Zurich, it may be gone by now.” [my emphasis]

The reference to “urgent conversations” seems to suggest they were actually listening in on them. (It also raises the question of why we didn’t try to stop Mubarak from stealing the money, but I think we know the answer to that question.)

That’s similar to the way another senior official–this one identified as American–brags to CNN about the satellites we’re using to collect intelligence in Egypt. (h/t Tim Shorrock)

As the Obama administration reacted, Washington was using a variety of intelligence assets to see what was happening in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, CNN has learned.

The U.S. military and intelligence community are using “national technical means” in the sky over Egypt to gather information about the demonstrations and the deployment of Egyptian security forces.

The phrase “national technical means” is used by the U.S. government to generally refer to the use of reconnaissance satellites to gather imagery or signals intelligence.

A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the operation confirmed the intelligence-gathering but declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

The official declined to say to what extent the Egyptian government is aware of the activity. The official would not say specifically which intelligence-gathering elements were being used but indicated that operations were being conducted in a manner that would not be visible to the Egyptian populace.

The official said the decision to use intelligence-gathering assets came in part after violence erupted in the early days of the Cairo demonstrations. [my emphasis]

Now, it should surprise no one to know that the US has been collecting signals intelligence from Egypt. We would be focusing on Egypt anyway because of our Israeli and counterterrorism interests. And SIGINT will undoubtedly be more important as our relationship with Omar Suleiman shifts along with his position in the government. But normally it’s considered polite not to admit to using SIGINT so blatantly.

What seems to be a key intent of these public admissions of our spying is to disclose to whom we were listening–Mubarak’s family (and presumably other top officials)–and why we shifted our normal focus away from counterterrorism targets–because of Egyptian security forces had used violence against protesters.

In other words, this seems to be a message to top officials in Egypt–both Mubarak and our partners in Egypt’s military–that we’ve shifted our gaze away from counterterrorism and onto the government itself.

I thought we weren’t supposed to tell the people we were eavesdropping on that we were doing so?

  1. WilliamOckham says:

    As I’m pretty sure you are aware, sometimes it is important to let people know that you know what they’ve been up to…

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    Translation: We know where you sent your money. Keep our secrets and you can keep your money.

    Boxturtle (Is it just me, or does the current Egyptian leadership seem disinterested in pursuing the money?)

      • BoxTurtle says:

        I’d take all estimates of how much Mubarak has with a LARGE pinch of salt. Everybody who’s given an estimate has reason to lie.

        I have to admit that the $2B number sounds a bit low to me. That would mean Mubarak aquired less than $100M per year, implying that he could only graft about .1% of the Egyptian GDP.

        Boxturtle (A decent Chicago politician would be able to skim at least 5%, why not Hosni?)

  3. JohnLopresti says:

    One minuteman ready sort of platform could be the new corps of drones, employing Adirondacks style black bear search techniques. A training exercise might include counting crocks in upper Nile, and the easy to spot sphinges which move little in millenia. Signal acquisition might be a bit sporadic with the sphinx, however. Yet, the regional geography dimensions likely make a simple P3Ares flight adequate for cellular tower nets. Then there was the mystery of the three west Mediterranean undersea fiber conduits interrupted quite a while ago, pretty difficult to splice, though. Also in the region widely are the entertainment earth station uplinks to the obvious satellites, which are owned and operated by a complex array of film production and other interests seeking footprints in north and east Africa, as well as into the populous areas on the west of Aden.

  4. Arbusto says:

    Ah, nothing like selective leakage. I wonder if using U2’s, satellites or drones “in the sky over Egypt to gather information about the demonstrations and the deployment of Egyptian security forces” was real time assistance to Egyptian security. We are so concerned about violent citizens, us governments must hang together or hang separately. Later when the hand writing was on the wall, our beneficent government released tidbits about offshore bank accounts. Government inaction for the masses.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Another reading is that the USG was aware of such “urgent conversations” is because it was part of them, not just listening in on them. After all, we are told that the administration scrambled for days in order to help find a constructive solution to Mr. Mubarak’s conflict with his people.

    One rationale could be that having sufficient funds (sufficiency being in the eye of the dictator) would be a critical element in keeping a former dictator out of power, out of jail and on the Adriatic Coast, where Mr. Milosevic, no doubt, hoped to retire. It also sends a supportive message to our remaining “allies” that we take care of our own. A more likely rationale, given today’s Washington and the ethics challenged American business elite, is the wild west notion that Mr. Mubarak stole them fair and square and thus deserves to keep them.

  6. PeasantParty says:

    I wonder how much Obama sent when he told him he had to step down? Of course, it was noted that there were men digging holes and smashing CD’s and tapes while Mubarak contemplated not resigning.

    I wonder if Obama’s envoy left with any of the documents from renditions or pay for ignoring Isreal?

  7. 1der says:

    Follow the money! The present Egyptian government, if it is following USA style democracy, will be about looking forward and all you know.

    And I’m always impressed at how our Trillions in defense and intelligence tax dollars have been spent on such fancy stuff, I mean without it think of how Shock and Awe would have turned out. Petreaus’ “Endless War” on the mujahadeen might instead be “Eternal” if not for those spies in the skies. Those dollars spent on that great intelligence gathering stuff has kept us all from drug addiction too. Thank god for gossipy high level officials.

    Fuck all, it’s got to be Happy Hour somewhere, eh?

  8. marksb says:

    We don’t even need the satellite capabilities.
    You can bet we have access to ALL the switches and routers that control ALL the data flow throughout the country and region, for packet-level analysis. It’s off-the-shelf technology.

  9. eCAHNomics says:

    If he had real money in Zurich, it may be gone by now

    Duh. After the Swiss froze Bin Ali’s assets, Mubarak would have been a moron if he hadn’t.

    WRT NSA listening in on Mubie & his henchmen, you’d think they would have taken precautions against that too (if it’s possible; I don’t remember all the NSA techniques for collection). Why take chances.

  10. eCAHNomics says:

    OTOH, it occurs to me that senior American officials could just be making the whole thing up, and they have no surveillance at all. It’s exactly the story I would have made up with no evidence whatsoever.

  11. arcadesproject says:

    so the tyrant & thief Mubarak is not a threat to US stability and security and should be allowed to steal whatever is not nailed down but Bradley Manning must be destroyed for refusing to lie about his relationship with Julian Assange.

    Who needs morality anyway?

  12. stryx says:

    April 2004 CSM

    Aid is central to Washington’s relationship with Cairo. The US has provided Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military aid since 1979, and an average of $815 million a year in economic assistance. All told, Egypt has received over $50 billion in US largesse since 1975.

    The money is seen as bolstering Egypt’s stability, support for US policies in the region, US access to the Suez Canal, and peace with Israel.

    I can haz CLAWBACK now?

  13. TarheelDem says:

    It’s OK to tell people that you are eavesdropping on them. You just don’t them to know that you’ve connected the dots in all of the overwhelming data about them that you’ve collected. Increasing with all eavesdropping, everywhere, all the time, it’s the priorities for the the time of data analysts that is the critical information.

    @14 That would be the most cost-effective solution if it were credible, wouldn’t it? I wonder if the cost of making it credible exceeds the cost of actually doing the surveilling.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      My only argument against my own hypothesis is that the USG has such a low command of the obvious, they’d be incapable of making up a plausible story.

      • TarheelDem says:

        That goes to my credibility point, doesn’t it. Too incompetent to tell the truth and too incompetent to lie.

  14. stryx says:

    Carnegie Endowment June 2009:

    As for U.S. security and military aid to Egypt, which is about $1.3 billion annually, it does not aim to strengthen Egyptian military power against any external threat, as this would be contrary to the declared U.S. objective of ensuring Israeli security and maintaining Israeli military supremacy over its Arab neighbors, including Egypt. Instead, this aid is devoted mainly to strengthening the regime’s domestic security and its ability to confront popular movements. This hardly enhances USAID’s popularity among the Egyptian people or educated elites.

    I agree that it would be good for the US to be stating loudly that we were looking very hard to find any aid siphoned off to Mubarak Inc.

    Even if Especially if no one is actually doing it.

  15. 1970cs says:

    While Hosni was operating the kill switch on the internet and cellular within the country, what is to keep the landlines from being routed through a U.S. hub giving the (bogus)justification for monitoring. That would cover phone calls and wire transfers.

  16. ZachPruckowski says:

    BoxTurtle – while 0.1% of GDP sounds low, remember that he also had to graft off enough to make his generals and political minions into millionaires as well. And it ignores yearly expenses – just because Mubarak is running with $2B (if that amount is accurate) doesn’t mean he didn’t graft $5 billion and just blow through $3B during his reign.

    Another key differentiator in these estimates is whether or not they include money in the name of family members