Saudi Arabia closer than Iran to acquiring nukes, BBC reports

Saudi ArabiaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Saudi Arabia is able to obtain atomic bombs “at will” through a secret pact with Pakistan, and can acquire nuclear weapons far quicker than Iran, according to the BBC. On Wednesday, the British broadcaster’s flagship Newsnight television program cited “a senior decision maker” at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in claiming that Pakistan had already built nuclear weapons ordered by Saudi Arabia. The weapons, which include “finished warheads” that can be affixed on long-range missiles, “are now sitting ready for delivery” as soon as Riyadh asks for them, according to the BBC. The program’s producers spoke to an unnamed “senior Pakistani official” who allegedly confirmed in general terms the secret agreement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The pact is said to require the Pakistanis to build and maintain a nuclear arsenal for use by the oil kingdom. Another Pakistani source, identified by Newsnight as “a one-time intelligence officer”, told the program that Pakistan maintained “a certain number of warheads” and that “if the Saudis were to ask for them at any given time they would immediately be transferred”. Newsnight’s diplomatic and defense editor, Mark Urban, wrote on the BBC website that Pakistan may already have transferred several Shaheen ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, in preparation for delivering nuclear warheads later on. This is not the first time such allegations have surfaced in public, though it is rare for Pakistani intelligence insiders to be quoted in such reports. Claims of a Saudi-Pakistani nuclear pact have been circulating in diplomatic circles since the mid-1990s, with some sources suggesting that the Saudis funded the Pakistani nuclear weapons program in exchange for access to nuclear warheads. Read more of this post

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Ex-CIA analyst says North Korea will launch strikes against South

North and South KoreaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst on North Korea at the United States Central Intelligence Agency believes that the communist state will launch limited strikes against the South before moving to de-escalate the ongoing crisis in the Korean peninsula. On March 27, Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from  the Korean Armistice Agreement, which it signed along with the United Nations and China at the end of the Korean War, in 1953. Shortly afterwards, North Korea closed all border connections with the South and disconnected the direct telephone line linking it with Seoul. It subsequently declared that it would not hesitate to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang heightened its rhetoric in response to Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, a two-month-long military exercise involving US and South Koran armed forces, which includes the deployment of nuclear-armed airplanes and ships. Although some expert observers are worried, few believe that the rhetorical boxing-match between the two Koreas will result in an outbreak of hostilities. But Columbia University Professor Sue Mi Terry, who headed the CIA’s North Korea analysis unit from 2001 to 2008, believes that Pyongyang will launch military strikes against Seoul before de-escalating the tension. Speaking to Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, Terry noted that the attack will not be nuclear, nor will it involve mass use of military force. Instead, it will be “a relative small attack” that “won’t leave many people dead”, she said. Read more of this post

Who leaked Iranian nuclear document that turned out to be a hoax?

The leaked documentBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On November 27, the Associated Press published an alleged Iranian document which it said proved Iran was working on a nuclear bomb. The news agency said the disclosure was the latest in a series of similar leaks to the media by “officials from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program”. However, the authenticity of the document, which contained a diagram calculating the explosive force of a nuclear weapon, is now heavily disputed. An analysis of the leaked document in the latest issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concluded that it was either massively erroneous or a hoax designed by amateurs. The Bulletin, a specialist publication founded by physicists involved in the Manhattan Project, said the document was “unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level”. The obvious question is who leaked the disputed document and why? An article in British newspaper The Guardian cites unnamed “Western officials” who claim that the diagram, along with several previous disclosures of a similar nature, was leaked by Israel “in an attempt to raise international pressure on Tehran”. If this is so, the leak appears to have seriously backfired and may have compromised the credibility of an ongoing investigation into the Iranian nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is because the leaked document was part of an intelligence file on Iran’s nuclear program, compiled by the IAEA, which formed the factual basis for a new set of penalties and sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union in November of 2011. The question that some United Nations officials are now asking is, if the leaked document is indeed a hoax, how could the IAEA guarantee the authenticity of the remaining documents on its file on Iran? Read more of this post

Former CIA senior analyst argues in favor of US deal with Iran

Paul R. PillarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former senior analyst in the United States Central Intelligence Agency has come out in support of a bilateral compromise between Iran and the West on Tehran’s nuclear program. In an article published last week, Georgetown University professor Paul R. Pillar, who spent nearly three decades with the CIA, dismissed the widespread view that the differences between Iran, Israel, and the West are insurmountable. Commenting on news of a nine-step negotiation plan offered by Tehran in early October, but dismissed by Washington as “unworkable”, Pillar said the offer provided the initial steps of an “eminently achievable agreement” between the interested parties. The CIA veteran, who rose to be one of the Agency’s top analysts prior to his retirement in 2005, argued that a possible outcome of bilateral negotiations would be for Iran to curtail its enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level in exchange for the lifting of most economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Western countries. “An agreement along these lines makes sense”, he added, “because it would meet the major concerns of each side” in the dispute. He cautioned, however, that, under such an agreement, Tehran would not only be prohibited from continuing its uranium enrichment process, but would also be required to surrender all quantities of uranium previously enriched to a level above 20 percent. Such an agreement, claimed Pillar, would mean that neither Iran nor Israel and the West would receive everything they wanted at once. Instead, the process would depend on a gradual implementation of several bilateral agreements in stages, “each side giving something and getting something at each stage”. Read more of this post

Nuclear smugglers to get reduced prison sentences ‘for helping CIA’

Urs TInnerBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Three Swiss engineers imprisoned for participating in an international nuclear smuggling ring are about to have their prison sentences significantly reduced, allegedly for having acted as agents for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested in 2004 in connection with a multinational investigation into the nuclear smuggling network of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, who is widely known as A.Q. Khan, had for years subcontracted his nuclear services to North Korea, Iran and Libya, until 2004, when he was placed under house arrest by the Pakistani government, following pressure from Washington. Since then, the Tinners have been under “investigative custody”, a peculiar state of pre-trial detention prescribed by Swiss law. In 2009, Urs Tinner gave an interview to Swiss television, in which he claimed than he, along with his brother and father, had for years informed the CIA on Khan’s activities and assisted the US intelligence agency terminate the Libyan nuclear weapons program. It later emerged that the Swiss government had “inadvertently” shredded some crucial documents required in the prosecution case against the three engineers. Late last year there was apparently concern at Langley that some CIA secrets could surface in court, after Swiss government prosecutors announced that a trial for the Tinners would go ahead. However, new prosecution documents released on Tuesday show that a plea bargain agreement has been struck between the Swiss government and the three defendants in this highly sensitive case. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #765

Hillary ClintonBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►MI6 chief says Iran will get nukes in 2 years. Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, has been quoted as publicly forecasting that Iranian nuclear weapons efforts will likely come to fruition by 2014. Sawers is quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying: “The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need”, adding “it’s equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state”. He went on to assert that Iran would have achieved nuclear statehood in 2008 had it not been for clandestine efforts to thwart such ends. He did not elaborate on what he meant by his comments, for which he was criticized in Parliament earlier this week.
►►MI6 chief claims US interrogators were ‘obsessed’. In the same Telegraph interview, Sir John claimed that British interrogators, following the attacks of September 11, 2001, came “close to the line” of illegality. He went on to say that US interrogators straddled the line between legal and illegal, insinuating that US personnel may have crossed the line during interrogations. Sir John is quoted as explaining: “They [US interrogators] got so obsessed with getting a right answer that they drifted into an area that kind of amounted to torture”. He went on to claim that British personnel involved in interrogations never crossed the line, observing: “We’ve never been there, we’ve never been involved in that, and I think our accountability, our disciplines, have helped us keep on the right side of these lines”.
►►Clinton says Israeli spy Pollard unlikely to be freed. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reaffirmed Washington’s position that Jonathan Pollard was unlikely to receive clemency or see freedom anytime soon. During a press conference in Jerusalem on July 16, Secretary Clinton stated unequivocally: “He [Jonathan Pollard] was sentenced to life in prison, he is serving that sentence, and I do not have any expectations that that is going to change”. Pollard, a former US naval intelligence analyst, was suspected of trying to provide classified information to South Africa, Pakistan, and Australia. He was arrested and convicted of espionage for providing classified information to the State of Israel. He is serving a life sentence for his crimes.

News you may have missed #687

Hans BlixBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Analysis: Is Obama abusing the US Espionage Act? Prosecutors may still attempt to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, though their case will likely depend on exactly how he received his information. But, WikiLeaks aside, the Obama administration has made increasing use of the act to clamp down on whistleblowers.
►►Ex-head admits IAEA does work with spies (shock, horror). The International Atomic Energy Agency, which acts as the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations has been closely cooperating with the world’s spy agencies, including on Iran and Syria, for years, according to its former director. Hans Blix told RT that the IAEA’s cooperation with the world’s intelligences started following the Iraqi crisis of the 1990s. “Of course, intelligence can always try to fool everybody”, he said. “Half of the information may be true, half of it may be disinformation, and therefore they have to examine it critically”.
►►Afghanistan arrests diplomat on spying charges. Afghanistan’s State Intelligence Agency (KHAD) on Monday said that a senior foreign ministry diplomat and three other government officials had been arrested over charges of spying for Iran and Pakistan. The men were detained “on charges of spying for neighboring regions” and “the arrests were made with concrete evidence”, KHAD’s spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, said. An unnamed source in the same agency also claimed that the deputy head of KHAD’s Asia desk and two government employees had been arrested in a similar incident in the eastern Afghan province Nangarhar a month before.

US spy agencies see no clear evidence of Iran building nukes

Cover of the 2007 National Intelligence EstimateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The United States intelligence community still believes Iran has no immediate goals to produce nuclear arms, and says that Tehran terminated its atomic weapons program in 2003, according to American officials. This is not to say that Iran is not interested in potentially building nuclear weapons. Most intelligence analysts agree that Iran’s long-term goal is to explore the possibility of establishing a nuclear arsenal. However, putting aside the broad concurrence of opinion about Iran’s long-term goal, very little is clear about the current state of Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran maintains that its goal is peaceful, namely to invest in nuclear energy so as to free up large quantities of oil for exports. It is important to stress that the consensus among America’s intelligence agencies is that this is in fact Iran’s immediate goal. This was pronounced in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a publicly available annual report cooperatively authored by the heads of all 16 US intelligence agencies. The 2007 report stated “with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”. The US intelligence community has come under sustained criticism from many who have denounced the 2007 and subsequent NIEs as mistaken, or even reckless. Last Friday, however, a New York Times article citing “current and former American officials” said that the consensus among US intelligence analysts remains “that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb”. According to the article, the US intelligence community’s consensus remains “broadly consistent” with the 2007 and 2010 NIEs. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #675

Maria del Pilar HurtadoBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Panama refuses to extradite Colombian ex-spy chief. Panama’s foreign ministry cited the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, an international accord on asylum and Panamanian law, as reason for denying Colombia’s request to extradite Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who faces charges in Bogota over an illegal wiretapping scandal. Currently enjoying asylum in Panama are former presidents of Guatemala, Jorge Serrano Elias; and Ecuador, Abdala Bucaram; as well as erstwhile Haitian military strongman Raoul Cedras.
►►Russian spy chief to visit Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday he and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov will visit Syria and meet with President Bashar al-Assad on February 7. The visit will be made on instructions from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Lavrov did not reveal any details of the upcoming the visit.
►►US spy chief: ‘we don’t know if Iran is building a bomb’. At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last Tuesday, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, released the following statement: “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.  We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons”.

CIA installed nuclear surveillance device atop Himalayas mountains

Nanda DeviBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States Central Intelligence Agency tried at least twice to install a nuclear-powered surveillance device atop the Indian Himalayas, in an effort to spy on China. The decision to plant the device was taken in 1964, soon after communist China detonated its first nuclear bomb. In 1965, a team of CIA operatives attempted to climb Nanda Devi in the Garhwal Himalayas, which, at 25,645 feet (7,816 meters), is the highest mountain peak located entirely within Indian territory. But the top-secret mission failed miserably after adverse weather forced the CIA team to give up its effort approximately 2,000 feet below the summit. Battling against a heavy snowstorm, the CIA officers abandoned the 125-pound device, which was eventually swept away (.pdf document) by an avalanche. Incredibly, the team members deserted the surveillance device even though they knew it contained plutonium 238, which can emit radioactivity for over 500 years. In 1966, the same CIA team returned to Nanda Devi, in an effort to recover the complex surveillance instrument, but failed to locate it. In response to the second failed mission, the Agency decided to close the book on Nanda Devi, and instead constructed an identical surveillance device, which was transported and installed on Nanda Kot, a mountain peak located about nine miles (15 km) southeast of Nanda Devi. At 6,861 meters, Nanda Kot is about 3,000 feet shorter and far less steep than Nanda Devi. In 1967, a successful CIA attempt was made to reach the peak of Nakda Kot, where the radioactive surveillance device was installed. It is believed that it served its purpose before being abandoned there in 1968. Ten years later, in 1978, both operations were revealed in an article published in US-based Outside magazine. The revelation caused a major political uproar in India, as many Indians consider the Himalayas ‘sacred’ ground. Now the National Archives of India has released a batch of previously classified internal documents from India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Read more of this post

Nuclear Iran ‘not an existential threat to Israel’, says Mossad chief

Tamir PardoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The director of Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, the Mossad, has said that it would be wrong to consider a nuclear-armed Iran an “existential threat” to Israel. For years, senior Israeli politicians and American military planners have described the prospect of a nuclear-capable Iran as an “existential threat” to the Jewish state. But this widespread belief is apparently not shared by Tamir Pardo, head of Israel’s revered Mossad intelligence agency. Pardo outlined his view while speaking yesterday before an audience of over 100 Israeli ambassadors and consuls general, at a conference dealing with diplomatic security issues and public affairs. Lectures at the conference, which is held annually at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, are given behind closed doors. But Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted three Israeli ambassadors who attended Pardo’s talk; they confirmed that the Mossad director rejected the view that Israel’s existence would necessarily be endangered by an Iranian nuclear arsenal, and dismissed the maxim “existential threat” as a “term used too liberally”. The Israeli newspaper quoted Pardo as saying: “Does [a nuclear-armed] Iran constitute a threat to Israel? Certainly. However, if we were to claim that a nuclear weapon in Iran’s possession was an existential threat [to Israel], it would simply mean that we would have to terminate [our operations] and go home. But this is not the case. The term [existential threat] is used too liberally”. The unnamed ambassadors told Ha’aretz that Pardo’s comments did not imply that the Mossad would stop its covert war on Iran, nor that Israel would accept the prospect of a nuclear Iran as inevitable. “However, what [Pardo’s] remarks undoubtedly imply is that he does not view a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel”, they said. Pardo’s comments closely echo those of his predecessor, Meir Dagan, who last May condemned a possible Israeli attack on Iran as an act that would be “patently illegal under international law” and “the stupidest thing [he had] ever heard”. Read more of this post

Trial announced for Swiss nuclear smugglers said to be CIA agents

Urs Tinner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Switzerland has officially charged three Swiss citizens with assisting the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, who gave nuclear information to North Korea, Libya and Iran. But the scope of the trial will be severely limited under a peculiar plea bargain struck with the three defendants, which will prevent the court from examining their claims of having worked as agents of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco, were arrested by German and Italian authorities in 2004 and extradited to Switzerland. Soon afterwards, Swiss authorities came under political pressure from the US Department of State, which appeared displeased with the prospect of a trial for the Tinners. Swiss government investigators quickly realized that the Tinners were considered valuable assets by the CIA, something which Urs Tinner himself admitted in a January 2009 interview. So convinced were Swiss authorities of Urs Tinners’ CIA connection claims, that they turned down repeated requests by the Tinners’ lawyers to release their clients on bail, fearing the three suspects would escape to the United States. In 2007, there was further uproar in Swiss public opinion, when it emerged that the Swiss Federal Department of Defense had secretly shredded 30,000 pages of vital evidence in the Tinners’ case, ostensibly to prevent their falling into the hands of foreign governments or terrorists. Several pundits accused Swiss authorities of destroying the documents under heavy political pressure from Washington. These suspicions were rekindled this week, after Switzerland’s attorney general announced that the Tinners would be tried for “aiding the illegal nuclear weapons program of an unknown state”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #645

Turki al-Faisal

Turki al-Faisal

►►Polish authorities arrest retired spy. The former head of Poland’s State Protection Bureau (1993-96) has been detained by officers of the country’s Central Anticorruption Bureau. Identified as Gromoslaw Cz., the arrestee is a retired general and intelligence officer, who participated in the extraction of CIA officers in Iraq in 1990. According to TVN 24 news, Gromoslaw Cz.’s detention is connected with events surrounding the privatization of the G-8 group of energy companies in the years 1994-2004, which eventually set up Energa concern in 2005.
►►Are China’s hotel rooms bugged? What could have been a dull security conference in Canada last week turned into a pretty interesting one, when former diplomat Brian McAdam claimed that “virtually all” hotels in China are rigged with hidden microphones and video cameras. The latter, he said, are used by the Chinese government to recruit many of its informants, by catching them in the act in carefully planned liaisons.
►►Ex-spy chief says Saudi Arabia may join nuke arms race. Saudi Arabia may consider acquiring nuclear weapons to match regional rivals Israel and Iran, its former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said on Monday. “Our efforts and those of the world have failed to convince Israel to abandon its weapons of mass destruction, as well as Iran [...]. Therefore it is our duty towards our nation and people to consider all possible options, including the possession of these weapons” Faisal told a security forum in Riyadh.

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 #606

Gaza Freedom Flotilla raid

2010 Flotilla raid

►►N. Korea planned to trade nukes for full ties with US. North Korea in 2008 indicated it would retain its nuclear bombs until the end of the six-party talks as a final bargaining chip for attaining full diplomatic relations with the United States, according to US diplomatic cables leaked recently by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
►►Judge refuses to sanction CIA for destroying torture tapes. A federal judge won’t hold the CIA in contempt for destroying videotapes of detainee interrogations that included the use of a torture technique known as waterboarding, ruling instead that the spy agency merely committed “transgressions” for its failure to abide by his court order. The Obama administration has kept its promise to the CIA.
►►Turkey says NATO members will not share intelligence with Israel. Turkey has says it is certain that NATO member states will keep their promise of not sharing the Alliance’s intelligence within with Israel. Turkish-Israeli relations badly damaged last year, after Israeli naval commandos stormed a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza to breach the naval blockade, killing nine Turkish civilians.

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