“People in the Gulf” Talking on Skype

The NatSec twittersphere is abuzz about the fact that the CIA indirectly warned Hezbollah that some al Qaeda operatives were preparing an attack on a location in southern Lebanon.

I’m actually less interested that we felt the need to warn a political entity that we consider a terrorist organization than the other details of the story — and that it is a story Lebanese sources felt free to share with the press.

For example, the report says we intercepted calls between the al Qaeda operatives and “people in the Gulf.”

“They had transcripts of calls made from known al Qaida people in Lebanon to people in the Gulf that included detailed information about the attacks, including the amounts of explosives that had been smuggled into Lebanon,” said one Lebanese intelligence official who is barred from speaking openly to reporters.

McClatchy suggests these al Qaeda figures were calling other al Qaeda figures in this unnamed Gulf country. But why should we assume that? Qatar has been funding al Qaeda linked militants in Syria. Is it possible this story is public because the US wants it known that we’re so tired of Qatar’s support for terrorists we’ll even tip Hezbollah to plans Qatari backed terrorists have made?

Indeed, a comment from a Hezbollah member quoted in the story seems to suggest this warning (and, I would suggest, the publicity surrounding it) is an effort to put the genie we’ve created back in the bottle.

The Hezbollah commander said he thought the warning was more pragmatic.

“The Americans are starting to realize how bad their friends in Syria are, so they’re trying to get out of this mistake,” he said. “They also think that if a bomb goes off in Dahiya, we will blame America and target Americans in Lebanon. That will never happen, but they’re scared of this monster they created.”’

That monster was created with the funding of one of our close allies.

I’m also intrigued by the suggestion that the US managed to collect these calls whereas the Lebanese could not because it was VOIP.

A security contractor familiar with the capabilities of the Lebanese intelligence services said it was likely that the targets had used voice-over-Internet software that the Lebanese services lack the equipment and expertise to decrypt but that poses few problems for the Americans.

“Lebanon lacks the expertise and the technology for that,” said the contractor, who asked not to be further identified because of the sensitivity of his work. “But once the call left Lebanon for the Gulf, the NSA would have automatically been tracking it.”

We’ve just learned the extent to which Microsoft has helped the government access Skype. And the government claims such disclosures have led terrorists to stop using Skype.

Were these terrorists and their friends in the gulf?

Update: Via Twitter, McClatchy reporter and Middle East expert Jonathan Landay says I’m reading way too much into this, and that there is a backstory he cannot share.

So take these musings as off-base ones.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. joanneleon says:

    I thought the palace coup in Qatar basically took care of the gripes we had with their vigorous backing of jihadists. I don’t know why we’d need to send them a message this way. We already sent it with that coup. However, why are we thinking just Qatar? What about the Saudis or perhaps other Gulf states? I guess it’s also possible that we just want to put some more evidence of how valuable the NSA is too and therefore arranged to have that story linked. But yeah, Hezbollah. Odd. My understanding from the whole Wes Clark plan was that Lebanon was on the list and we wanted to destabilize that too, or any ally of Iran. Maybe the Hezbollah guy is right and the U.S. has finally begun to backtrack on the hellish long term neocon strategy. I also sometimes wonder if, even within the U.S., there are two distinct factions trying to implement two different strategies.

  2. mindful says:

    “Creating a monster” is an apt description. How is that somewhere between 60-70% of Americans oppose any sort of intervention in Syria, but that it seems to make no difference to our rulers in DC?
    It seems as if the best explanation for the the last 12 years of US foreign policy is that 1) we have cynically been fomenting radical Islam to advance a remaking of the Mideast or 2) we don’t really have any coherent policy, and react to each new situation as it unfolds. I don’t know which is worse.

  3. klynn says:

    Why the heck did McCl run the story if there is a “backstory” that cannot be shared? What else are readers to do when reading the article? Just read and “move along, nothing to see here?”

    The article should not have been run. This piece serves what purpose?

    So, does Landay think he is a Jedi Master?

  4. orionATL says:

    no big deal – just sources and methods revealed in a p.r. defense of the nsa.

    see how useful we electron spooks can be?

  5. Michael Hammill says:

    This story has so many problems it is laughable. It starts with the guy telling it, Mitch Prothero (the guy who brought us the ridiculous Hizbullah paintball story). At best, someone with an agenda whispered into mr Prothero’s ear knowing full well Prothero would go galloping off into the distance with whatever was fed to him.

  6. shekissesfrogs says:

    This is the Angry Arab/As’ad Abukhalil on that same story. He critiques the media and sources but the Al-Akhbar story has much richer detail.
    Mitch Prothero and his secret Hizbullah sources

    “Yes, a warning came from the CIA,” said a Hezbollah internal security commander who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.“”

    Of course, this story was reported by Hasan `Illuyq of Al-Akhbar but it stated that the CIA warning came to Lebanese intelligence services. But `Illuyq who has far more extensive contacts within Hizbullah did not cite Hizbullah sources but Lebanese intelligence services but it seems that Hizbullah sources prefer this guy, Prothero, to Hasan `Illuyq. The has gone from the funny to the absurd to the ridiculous. And do you notice that Hizbullah sources who talk to Prothero or Blanford sound just like US officials when they say that they “are not authorized to talk to reporters”? And yet they are not authorized but they seek the most anti-Hizbullah and pro-Hariri Western reporters to talk to them. (thanks Michael)
    Posted by As’ad AbuKhalil at 10:32 AM”

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