Blast reported in Isfahan, site of major Iranian nuclear facility

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Iranian media are reporting a blast in the city of Isfahan, in central Iran, which is home to one of Iran’s most active nuclear facilities. News reports, including one from Iran’s state-operated FARS News Agency, say that the blast was heard across the city at 2:40 p.m. on Monday, and that an investigation is currently underway to determine its cause. With a population of nearly two million, Isfahan, capital of the province by the same name, is Iran’s third largest city. It is also home to one of the country’s premier nuclear research facilities, which includes a nuclear plant that produces uranium pellets for use in nuclear reactors. Intriguingly, after an initial period of silence, regional government officials in Isfahan appeared to downplay reports of the explosion. Speaking to Iran’s Mehr news agency, the Deputy Governor of Isfahan, Mohammad-Mehdi Ismaeli, said characteristically that reports of an explosion were “unfounded”, and speculated with a dose of sarcasm that “maybe someone’s water heater blew up”.  But Western reports from Iran, including one by United Press International, interpret the media attention given to the Isfahan blast as an indication of “how the country is being spooked by cover operations against its nuclear program”. Reports of the alleged blast come only weeks after a major explosion at a military base 25 miles west of Iranian capital Tehran killed 17 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, including Major General Hassan Moqqadam. The late General was described by Iran’s state media as the “founder of Iran’s missile program” and a pioneer in the country’s missile development after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Meanwhile, the former Director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Meir Dagan, has reiterated his warnings against plans by Tel Aviv to attack Iran. Speaking on Israeli television on Tuesday, Dagan cautioned Israel Read more of this post

News you may have missed #638 (analysis edition)

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Strauss-Kahn

►►What really happened to Strauss-Kahn? Earlier this year, Dominique Strauss-Kahn lost his political career and his job as head of the International Monetary Fund after he was indicted in New York on sexual assault charges, which were later dropped. But investigative journalist Edward J. Epstein alleges that the French politician may have been the target of a deliberate attempt to destroy him as a political force. His allegations relate to a missing BlackBerry phone which is said to have been hacked by Strauss-Kahn’s political rivals.
►►Spy game revs up with Arab Spring. A broad –perhaps too broad– primer on espionage and intelligence operations in the Middle East, with quotes by several academics and former intelligence operatives. Parts of it are probably too basic for intelNews regulars, but worth a look nonetheless.
►►Why is UK police not investigating Climategate? The UK police force tasked with investigating the hacking of emails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (the debunked “Climategate“), seems to have quietly de-prioritized its investigation. According to documents released under the UK Freedom of Information Act, the amount spent on attempts to identify the hacker in the last year was just £5,649.09 (less than $8,000), suggesting police work on the investigation has ground to a halt.

News you may have missed #631

Tommy Douglas

Tommy Douglas

►►Some spy files on Canadian prominent politician released. Newly declassified records from the early 1960s show that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police spied on Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas (pictured), suspecting him of communist sympathies. Douglas, a popular leftwing politician, led the first social democratic government in North America.
►►Aussie diplomats urged to welcome defectors in 1980s. The Australian government urged its spies and diplomats to encourage foreign officials to defect to Australia and welcome intelligence they might bring with them, according to internal documents from the 1980s, released this week. The directives noted that applications from defectors were not expected to be numerous “but failure on our part to handle them deftly could result in the loss of intelligence relevant to Australia’s security and other interests”. One observer notes that the 1980s policy towards defectors still applies today in Australia’s diplomatic community.
►►Iran arrests two Kuwaitis on suspicion of espionage. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency says Iranian security has detained two Kuwaiti citizens in southwestern Iran for suspected espionage activities. Fars quoted Bahram Ilkhaszadeh, governor of Abadan, a town close to Kuwait, as saying that Iran’s security agents detained the two on possession of “spying equipment”. Kuwait has denied the charges.

Western companies provide Syrian regime with monitoring systems

Syria

Syria

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An Italian communications company is working with the Syrian government to provide it with a sophisticated email surveillance system, using equipment created by American, French and German firms. The Syrian regime has come under sustained pressure by Western governments in recent months. The latter urge Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, to stop using lethal violence against protesters, citing independent reports that over 3,000 civilians have been killed by government forces since March. But Bloomberg News Agency cites an unnamed insider who claims Area SpA, a telecommunications surveillance company based in Milan, Italy, has technicians in several Syrian cities working feverishly to provide the  Syrian authorities with a state-of-the-art email surveillance system. According to the unnamed source, when completed, the surveillance system will be able to “intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country”. The project, which has been codenamed ASFADOR, is directed by senior Syrial intelligence officials, who are supervising the work of several Italian technicians working in Damascus and elsewhere. Bloomberg reports that numerous Area SpA technicians have been traveling to Syria “in shifts”, as the company is anxiously trying to accommodate pressures by Syrian officials, who say “they urgently need to track people”. The Italian company, known for providing Italian law enforcement with telephone surveillance hardware and software, is apparently using equipment by European and American firms, including France’s Qosmos SA, Germany’s Ultimaco Safeware AG, and America’s NetApp Inc. Bloomberg, which claims it has seen blueprints of the surveillance system, contacted Area SpA’s chief executive officer, Andrea Formenti, who refused to comment on the case, except to say that his company “follows all laws and export regulations”. Wondering where you’ve heard all this before? Read more of this post

More Arabs want to work for Mossad, says Israeli Foreign Ministry

Ahmed Jamal Daif

Ahmed Jamal Daif

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The unprecedented political changes in the Arab world have generated a flurry of electronic correspondence between young Arabs and the Israeli government, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Israeli officials say that the lifting of Internet restrictions in much of the Arab world has allowed young people to access the Israeli government’s Arabic-language websites and social networking sites. This has facilitated “thousands of messages […] with words of praise, requests for asylum […], and even offers [by young Arabs] to serve in the [Israel Defense Forces] and Mossad”. In a carefully coordinated public relations campaign, the Ministry voluntarily released on Monday some anonymous messages —allegedly from Arabs and Iranians— to Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, which leans politically toward Israel’s center-right Kadima party. In one message, an Iraqi computer technician wrote to request political asylum, adding that Israel is the Middle East’s “only country that respects personal freedom”. In another released message, an Iranian Muslim expressed the will to resettle in Israel, because its population is “the strongest and most cultured in the region”. The story in Yedioth Ahronoth includes comments by the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson, who argues that the flood of electronic correspondence from the Muslim world “is illustrative of the fact that across the Middle East there are people who hold Israel in far higher regard than is presumed”. Hirschson added that some of the electronic messages have come from “from Arab politicians and officials”. Read more of this post

White House considering covert operations against Iran

Iran

Iran

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the major strategic objections to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the near-certain prospect that removing the Sunni-dominated Ba’ath Party from power would increase Iranian-Shiite influence in the country. As the US military exit strategy gradually unfolds in Iraq, the administration of US President Barack Obama is faced with precisely this prospect. While US troops are leaving Iraq, Iran is doing what any logical regional power would do: namely strengthening its clandestine footprint inside Iraq and preparing Tehran-allied Iraqi groups for the impending showdown with Sunni power centers. An article that appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal notes that “growing concern [about regional] influence from Iran” has prompted the Obama administration to explore covert ways of countering it. According to the article, US intelligence agencies have detected “increased arms smuggling [by Iran] to its allies” in Iraq, Bahrain and Syria (and, one would suppose, Lebanon, though this is not mentioned in the piece). The administration has therefore “pushed the military and intelligence communities to develop proposals to counter Tehran”, says the Journal. The push has prompted American intelligence and military planners to request “greater authority to conduct covert operations to thwart Iranian influence in neighboring Iraq”. This essentially implies an appeal for a Presidential “finding”, a secret executive authorization that —under the National Security Act— would provide the required legal basis for covert operations conducted abroad. Read more of this post

Western companies help Bahrain spy on democracy activists

NSN Logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
While Western governments preach to the world about the benefits of democracy, Western companies supply some of the most detestable dictatorial regimes with surveillance technologies for use against pro-democracy activists. One example in point is the repressive government of Bahrain, which, according to Amnesty International, is responsible for some of the most extensive human rights violations anywhere in the Middle East. Bahrain is the kind of place where even medical professionals who treat people wounded by police or soldiers in demonstrations are charged with “incitement”. Despite the fervor of the pro-democracy movement that has risen as part of the Arab Spring, the oil-rich royal clique that rules the nation has managed a series of debilitating hits against the reformists. The success of the crackdown is largely due the use of sophisticated telecommunications surveillance systems that allow Bahraini authorities to spy on cell phones and social networking platforms used by members of the pro-democracy opposition. Who supplied the Bahraini dictators with this equipment? Step forward German engineering conglomerate Siemens AG, and Finnish multinational Nokia. An article published this week in Bloomberg’s Markets magazine, fingers the German company as the primary supplier of telecommunications surveillance systems to the Bahraini royals. The latter rely on contracts with Nokia’s Trovicor GmbH subsidiary to maintain the sophisticated software and hardware. Bloomberg says it was notified of the Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) partnership by two unnamed insiders, “whose positions at the companies gave them direct knowledge of the installations and the sale and maintenance contracts”. Read more of this post

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