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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Let's go to the videotape!

Remember those 'juicy' videotapes that were found in Fatah headquarters when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip six weeks ago? Well, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that some of them may be released as soon as Tuesday, and when they are, it will not be pretty.

Hat Tip: Charles Levinson
Hamas leaders say they acquired thousands of paper files, computer records, videos, photographs and audio recordings containing valuable and potentially embarrassing intelligence information gathered by Fatah. For more than a decade, Fatah operated a vast intelligence network in Gaza established under the tutelage of the Central Intelligence Agency.

...

The exact nature of the threat posed by the intelligence grab in Gaza -- including any damage to U.S. intelligence operations in the Palestinian territories and the broader Middle East -- is difficult to ascertain. U.S. and Israeli officials generally tried to play down any losses, saying any intelligence damage is likely minimal.

But a number of former U.S. intelligence officials, including some who have worked closely with the Palestinians, said there was ample reason to worry that Hamas has acquired access to important spying technology as well as intelligence information that could be helpful to Hamas in countering Israeli and U.S. efforts against the group.

"People are worried, and reasonably so, about what kind of intelligence losses we may have suffered," said one former U.S. intelligence official with extensive experience in Gaza.

A U.S. government official said he doubted serious secrets were compromised in the Gaza takeover. Other officials said they had no reason to believe that U.S. spying operations elsewhere in the Arab world had been compromised.

Close ties between Hamas and the governments of Iran and Syria also mean that intelligence-and-spying techniques could be shared with the main Middle East rivals of the Bush administration. As the White House prepares to lead an international effort to bolster Fatah's security apparatus in the West Bank, the losses in Gaza stand as an example of how efforts to help Fatah can backfire.

The compromised intelligence Hamas says it now has ranges widely. The group alleges it has videos used in a sexual-blackmail operation run by Washington's allies inside Fatah's security apparatus. But the group also says it has uncovered detailed evidence of Fatah-controlled spying operations carried out in Arab and Muslim countries for the benefit of the U.S. and other foreign governments. Hamas also alleges that Fatah intelligence operatives cooperated with Israeli intelligence officials to target Islamist leaders for assassination.

"What we have is good enough for us to completely reveal the practices [of Fatah-controlled security services], both locally and throughout the region," said Khalil al Hayya, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, who has assumed a leading role on the intelligence issue for the Islamist group.

Michael Scheuer, a former top CIA counterterrorism analyst who left the agency in 2004, said the U.S. had provided the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority with "substantial help" in training as well as computers, other equipment and analytical tools. Other former intelligence officials confirmed that the U.S. gave Fatah-controlled services sophisticated intelligence-gathering equipment, including eavesdropping technology, though these officials wouldn't provide more precise details about the technology.

...

Some of the most potentially explosive claims from Hamas center on the alleged activities beyond the Gaza Strip of Palestinian agents loyal to Fatah. Mr. Hayya alleged the CIA utilized Palestinian agents for covert intelligence operations in other Middle Eastern countries. Hamas, he said, now possesses a roadmap detailing the names and actions of "those men whom thought were going to continue to be their hand across the region."

Some former U.S. intelligence officials who worked closely with the Palestinian Authority confirmed that such overseas spying arrangements beyond Gaza existed with the Palestinians in the past and said they likely continued, bolstering the credibility of Hamas's claims.

Whitley Bruner, a longtime CIA officer in the Middle East, recalled that "some of our first really good information on [Osama] bin Laden in Sudan" in the early 1990s "came from Palestinian sources." Before leaving the agency in 1997, Mr. Bruner participated in many of the first cooperative sessions organized by Mr. Tenet between the CIA and the Palestinians.

"It's not unlikely that continued to do things for the U.S. well beyond the territories," Mr. Bruner said. "Palestinians are embedded all over the place, so they have access to things that the U.S. doesn't."

Others are more circumspect. Bruce Reidel, who worked for nearly 30 years as a U.S. Middle East specialist, both as a CIA intelligence officer and as an adviser to Presidents Clinton and Bush, said there is sure to be "quite a treasure trove of materials that would document relationship with the CIA." Mr. Reidel said during his time in government, which ended in 2005, "the Palestinians were always trying to prove that they had unique access and information," but he said he was skeptical of Hamas's claims that such operations ventured far beyond Gaza and the West Bank.

Mr. Hayya alleges that while many officials from Arab and Muslim nations knew Mr. Dahlan was cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies inside the Palestinian territories, many of those same leaders "are going to be amazed and surprised when they discover had actually worked against them for the Americans." He wouldn't directly answer a question about which nations were allegedly being spied on, but he said Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had the most to be concerned about from potential disclosures.
Read it all.

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