Judging by its successes on the battlefield before Russian military intervention in Syria, the Islamic State never appeared to have been stymied by the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive global electronic snooping capabilities. Either NSA has been withholding from key U.S. policy makers, critical intelligence on the Islamic State’s weapons supply and financial support network, recruitment efforts, and top leadership, which would be unlikely, or NSA signals intelligence on the jihadist state has been ignored by other U.S. government departments.
In the face of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command working with such pro-Islamic State countries as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where allegedly “moderate” Syrian rebels like the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal group have been trained by the CIA in secret camps with Wahhabist clerics providing the radical indoctrination, it appears that any NSA intelligence reports that paint the Islamic State’s actual military, financial, and religious supporters in Riyadh and Doha in a critical hue never see the light of day among the senior echelons of power in Washington.
Even the U.S. Treasury Department has only recently expressed an interest in how the Islamic State has managed so many brand new Toyota vehicles, especially Land Cruisers and Hiluxes. Toyota claims that the Treasury Department’s inquiry is part of wider probe by the United States of terrorist supply chains and capital flow. However, the announcement of the “probe” of the vehicle supply network maintained by the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate came only after Russia began to wage an effective military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. If an Iraqi government’s request is approved by Russia, Russian military action against ISIL will also commence in Iraq.
With the extensive surveillance net that NSA has over Japan, it is doubtful that the White House was unaware of the fact that ISIL has obtained most of its new Toyota vehicles courtesy of the Shinzo Abe government, which sees ISIL as a long term strategic but covert partner against Japan’s arch-enemy, China. The fact that so many Muslim Uighurs have found safe haven in ISIL-occupied Syria and intend to return to western China to fight for the expansion of the Islamic State’s caliphate there, is music to the ears of many Japanese militarists who want to settle old scores with China. Abe’s covert operations slush fund, siphoned off illegally from the Japanese Postal Savings Bank, assuredly was identified by NSA’s signals intelligence intercepts of senior Japanese government officials and all the key Japanese ministries, including the Gaimusho (foreign ministry).
NSA also points its massive eavesdropping ear on Japanese companies like Toyota in an effort to give U.S. automobile manufacturers a competitive leg up in U.S.-Japanese trade negotiations.
Intercepts of Japanese government and corporate communications are centralized at the major NSA listening station at Misawa, Japan, a site the NSA has code named LADYLOVE. There would be relatively little about Toyota’s international sales that would be unknown to the NSA. NSA’s International Security Issues (ISI) branch’s Western Europe and Strategic Partnerships Division specifically concentrates its signals collection and analysis efforts on the trade activities of Japan and Western European and Latin American countries. A classified NSA Signals Intelligence Division memorandum stated that NSA maintained “sustained collection” against Japan. Economic intelligence from Japan is prioritized by NSA as “Level III” or “significant” intelligence. Level II is considered “critical,” and it includes information on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Given the U.S. government’s and CIA’s support for ISIL guerrillas in Syria and Iraq, especially the Chechen, Uighur, and Khorasan (Central Asia) brigades, it is unlikely that either the CIA or the Obama White House would have treated intercepts of Toyota business deals with ISIL front companies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Qatar as critical or even significant “actionable” intelligence.
NSA, from disclosed classified documents, appears to have placed a higher priority on intercepting the communications of Hezbollah and Hamas, both sworn enemies of ISIL, than on ISIL. There are a number of veteran U.S. intelligence professionals who ascribe this to a highly classified order from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA director John O. Brennan, that U.S. intelligence should direct its resources against Shi’a and other groups that pose a threat to ISIL and its radical jihadist allies in order to placate the wishes of Turkey, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, all of which host U.S. intelligence and military bases.
Rather than aim its massive snooping apparatus at the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and their financial support operations that benefit ISIL through cash payments, Wahhabist indoctrination of recruits, and the supply of weapons, vehicles, and supplies, NSA, according to leaked documents, believes it is more important to not only spy on the Olympic teams of Syria, Iran, Iraq, as well as Saudi Arabia, but also on the Olympic teams of Russia, China, Egypt, Indonesia, and Mexico.
Intelligence professionals have wondered aloud what possible national security benefits could come from NSA’s tapping of the cell phones of Russian wrestlers, Chinese archers, or Mexican cyclists. NSA has conducted sweeping electronic surveillance of the Olympics, starting in 1984 at the Summer Games in Los Angeles, and extending through the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. The surveillance of the Athens games was code named APRIL FLOWERS and involved the placing of electronic taps within Greece’s landline and cellular telecommunications networks.
Although NSA and its close signals intelligence partners in Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand pride themselves on their ability to track hotel reservations, airline reservations, credit card purchases, inter-bank financial transactions, ATM withdrawals, on-line purchases, computer keystrokes, mass transit movements, they either have not or will not collect intelligence on the international support network for ISIL that involves Saudi-funded madrassa religious schools and clerics, Middle East arms smugglers, historical artifact “fencing” of stolen antiquities from Syria and Iraq, sale of petroleum from ISIL-held oil fields in Syria and Iraq, and passage of recruits through gateway cities like Istanbul, Dubai, Doha, Bangkok, and Karachi.
NSA’s own classified files demonstrate clearly that rather than target Al Qaeda/ISIL funding sources, the U.S. signals intelligence focus has been on non-threats to the United States, including Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, and Mexico. This lack of prioritization of U.S. intelligence assets can only be laid at the doorstep of Barack Obama’s National Security Council and the major intelligence agency directors. One of them, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Michael Flynn, disclosed that it was a conscious decision by the Obama intelligence team to prop up the most radical jihadists in Syria in order to oust Bashar al Assad from power. It was obviously a decision with which General Flynn disagreed strongly, since it is felt that Obama fired him from his job under heavy pressure from Brennan at the CIA.
As long as pro-Saudis like Brennan, a former CIA station chief in Riyadh, and Clapper are calling the shots within the U.S. intelligence community, the Islamic State and its cohorts will always have a friendly interlocutor in Washington. NSA surveillance systems will continue to be trained on Olympic athletes instead of bloodthirsty jihadists rampaging throughout the Middle East and beyond.