Here’s what caught our eye in the world of intelligence this week:
According to a Homeland Security intelligence report, ISIS has likely been able to print legitimate-looking Syrian passports since taking over the city of Deir ez-Zour last year. The Syrian city, along with ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa, is home to a passport office with “boxes of blank passports” and a passport printer. The primary source of information for the report was listed as “moderate confidence.”
FBI Director James Comey revealed the problem to lawmakers. He said: “The intelligence community is concerned that they [ISIS] have the ability, the capability to manufacture fraudulent passports, which is a concern in any setting.” Fake Syrian passports have already been discovered in Europe, such as two used by suicide bombers in the Paris attacks last month.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, director Michael Bay met with CIA officials regarding his new movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. However, the agency claims it was not to grant Bay any access similar to that given to Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow for their 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, instead it was to protect against the possible release of classified information. Intelligence officials feared certain information from Mitchell Zuckoff’s nonfiction bestseller, from which the film is based, would end up in the final cut of the film; information such as certain protocol and procedures the CIA uses to protect its staff in foreign locations.
Bay, who is famous for his big-budget, explosion-happy movies such as Transformers says there is no political agenda for the new film, rather he “shows both sides of the story.” 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is set to be released January 15th, 2016.
During a rare visit to the Pentagon, President Obama gave his most detailed account of the efforts against ISIS. He spoke about how U.S. backed forces have stopped ISIS’s ground gains in Iraq and Syria, killed key ISIS leaders, and are now “putting the squeeze” on major ISIS-held cities. The President said in the fall, before the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, he “ordered new action to intensify our war against ISIL.”
Some of those actions included sending special forces to support locals and help them push south and cut off supply lines to Raqqa. Despite positive tones, President Obama did stress that the difficulty of the fight, saying ISIS is “dug in, including in urban areas and they hide behind civilians, using defenseless men, women and children as human shields.”
Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry says they have not found evidence that an “illegal or terrorist act” brought down Russian Airbus A321. The report from the Aviation Ministry, who leads the investigation, directly contradicts the conclusion by Russia, the UK, and the U.S. that a bomb planted by ISIS took down the plane. Shortly after the crash, Sinai Province, an Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for bringing down the jet.
It is unknown whether or not the Egyptian investigators consulted any multinational investigators, but the report did not include any evidence, such as shrapnel or photos, that outside air-crash experts would say supports the idea of a bomb bringing down the plane.
The German government issued a public rebuke of the BND after a memo claiming that Saudi Arabia is playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East was sent to select German journalists. The memo, titled “Saudi Arabia — Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation,” said the cautious diplomatic stance of the older royal family members is being replaced by an “impulsive policy of intervention” by new younger family members.
After taking the Saudi throne early this year King Salman has given his son Prince Mohammed a lot of power by making him defense minister and giving him oversight of the country’s oil and economic policy. The German foreign ministry issued a statement saying the BND memo reported by the media is not the position of the federal government.
Photo: President Barack Obama participates in a counterterrorism threat briefing at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va., Dec. 17, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)