Russia says it uncovered spy satellites disguised as space debris

Space debrisBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Russian government says it recently detected a group of satellites that are spying on Russia while orbiting the Earth camouflaged as “space junk”. The finding was announced on Sunday, April 12, on the Moscow-based Zvezda television station, which is wholly owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. For much of the day, Zvezda marked “Space Day”, which has been annually commemorated in Russia ever since 1961, when cosmonaut Yury Gagarin journeyed in outer space.

The station hosted Major General Oleg Maidanovich, of the country’s Aerospace Defense Forces (ADF), in a program entitled “Special Operations in Space”. Maidanovich told the program that specialists in the ADF’s Intelligence Center uncovered “a newly deployed group of space satellites” that were designed to collect signals intelligence (SIGINT) from Russian telecommunications and other electronic systems. However, the satellites had been disguised to appear and behave like “space junk”, he said. By “space junk”, Maidanovich was referring to rocket stages, old and defunct communications satellites, and various other fragments of manmade devices that have ended up in outer space since the 1950s and are endlessly orbiting the Earth.

Maidanovich said that it was not unusual for space reconnaissance agencies to camouflage their spy satellites as space debris and deploy them into Earth’s orbit in a dormant state for several years. Then, once the target country’s space reconnaissance counterintelligence forces disregard the device as a piece of space junk, the satellite is suddenly reawakened and begins to collect SIGINT. For that reason, he said, Russia’s ADF monitors at least a fifth of a total of 100,000 objects orbiting planet Earth on any given day, due to concerns that such objects may be used for SIGINT collection by rival spy agencies.

The Russian ADF commander declined a request to identify the country believed to be behind the alleged camouflaged spy satellites, saying it was “not necessary to do so at the present time”. He added that his office typically notifies the Kremlin when it detects disguised spy satellites, and that the decision on whether to shoot them down is made “on a national level”.

Spy satellites detect new nuclear weapons plant in North Korea

Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research CenterBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A brand new nuclear weapons production plant detected by spy satellites in North Korea would enable the recluse Asian country to double its uranium-based nuclear warheads, according to intelligence sources. South Korean daily newspaper JoongAng Ilbo said the plant was detected by spy satellites equipped with infrared cameras, which are able to sense heat emissions released by gas centrifuges. The latter are essential in separating uranium-235 isotopes from the predominant uranium-238 isotope, which constitutes over 99 percent of natural uranium and cannot be weaponized. JoongAng Ilbo quotes an unnamed South Korean intelligence official, who said the data collected by the spy satellites indicate that Pyongyang has activated a new centrifuge facility inside the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Located approximately 60 miles north of the capital Pyongyang, Yongbyon is North Korea’s major nuclear facility, which was used to produce the fissile material for North Korea’s first nuclear weapon test in 2006. Prior to the establishment of the newly detected plant on the site, the facility was believed to contain around 2,000 centrifuges. The new facility is thought to have added significantly to North Korea’s existing capacity to enrich uranium, as it appears from its architecture and size that it contains several hundred operational centrifuges. South Korean and Western officials estimate that North Korea has the capacity to produce up to five nuclear warheads, though many doubt that the country’s nuclear engineers have been able to miniaturize the warheads so as to mount them on a long-rage delivery system. In 2012, a court in Ukraine sentenced two North Korean citizens to eight years in prison on charges of trying to obtain secret technical information about missile engines. News media contacted South Korean’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which oversees surveillance operations against the North’s nuclear program, but received no answer regarding the discovery of the new production facility.

Discovery of spy parts leaves French-UAE satellite deal in doubt

Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin ZayedBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The planned acquisition of two French-built spy satellites by the United Arab Emirates appeared to be in doubt last night, after news that technicians discovered “security-compromising components” in the satellites’ software. The agreed purchase, which is to be completed in 2018, concerns two Falcon Eye military observation satellites worth nearly €700 million (US $930 million). The deal, signed last July by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, includes the provision of a ground station, as well as the training of up to 20 UAE engineers who will staff it. Two companies, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space, were contracted for the project. The French bid was chosen from an original shortlist of 11 bidders, along with a similar one from the United States. Ultimately, the American bid was rejected by Abu Dhabi, due to the operational restrictions placed by the American makers of the proposed satellites. At the time, the French-UAE deal raised eyebrows in defense circles worldwide, as it was the first time that France had agreed to sell military-grade high-resolution satellites to a foreign buyer. But an article in US-based defense industry publication Defense News, said software engineers in the UAE had discovered a number of components in the satellites that seem designed to “provide a back door to the highly secure data transmitted to the ground station”. Interestingly, the back-door components appeared to have come from US suppliers. Read more of this post

Freed Russian scientist convicted for spying maintains innocence

Valentin DanilovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A Russian scientist who was pardoned last week, after spending nearly a decade behind bars for allegedly spying for China, has dismissed the charges against him as “pure fantasy”. Physicist Valentin Danilov was arrested by the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service, in February of 2001 and charged with conducting espionage in the service of the Chinese space program. At the time of his arrest, Danilov headed the Thermo-Physics Center at Russia’s Krasnoyarsk State Technical University (KSTU), located in Siberia’s third largest city. For several years leading up to his arrest, he conducted research on the impact of solar activity on the condition and performance of space satellites. During his lengthy trial, Danilov admitted selling to the Chinese information on satellite technology belonging to the Russian government. But his defense team argued that the information in question had already been declassified and available in public sources since the early 1990s. Eventually, in November of 2004, a Russian Federal court found Danilov guilty of treason and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. He was supposed to be released in 2017. Earlier this month, however, a court in Krasnoyarsk found that, since Danilov had served most of his prison sentence in good behavior, and since his health was weak, he would be released early. In his first public interview since his release, Danilov, 66, has said he intends to take his case against the Russian government to the European Court of Human Rights. Speaking to reporters as soon as he emerged from prison, the Russian scientist said: “I would truly appreciate it if someone finally told me what state secret I sold”. He went on to comment directly on Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Everybody would be the same as him in his place, because it is the court that makes the czar”, he said, employing a traditional Russian proverb. Read more of this post

Russian court paroles scientist convicted of spying for China

Valentin DanilovBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A court in Siberia has issued a rare verdict to parole a Russian academic who was convicted in 2004 of conducting espionage on behalf of China. Russian physicist Valentin Danilov headed the Thermo-Physics Center at Russia’s Krasnoyarsk State Technical University (KSTU), which is located in Siberia’s third largest city. For several years prior to his arrest, he conducted research on the impact of solar activity on the condition and performance of space satellites. In 1999, Danilov was among the signatories of a lucrative contract between KSTU and the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which is the main contractor for the Chinese government’s space program. The contract stipulated that KSTU was to help China Aerospace evaluate the performance of artificial satellites in real-life space conditions. Less than two years later, in February of 2001, Danilov was arrested by the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service, and charged with conducting espionage in the service of the Chinese space program. In his trial, which took place in 2003, Danilov admitted selling to the Chinese information on satellite technology belonging to the Russian government. But his defense team argued that the information in question had already been declassified and available in public sources since the early 1990s. Largely due to this argument, the jury acquitted Danilov of all charges at the end of 2003. However, by the middle of June of next year, the physicist had been arrested again, after the Russian Supreme Court overturned his earlier acquittal. In November of 2004, another court found Danilov guilty of treason and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #789

Mikhail FradkovBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Putin adds spy chief to energy commission. Russian President Vladimir Putin has reinforced a presidential commission seen as Kremlin’s vehicle for vying for control over the country’s crucial oil and gas sector, by adding the country’s top police officer and senior spy to its ranks. They are Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and Mikhail Fradkov, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, formerly a department of the KGB. The commission is driven by Igor Sechin, a former KGB officer and close ally of President Putin.
►►US spy sat agency plans major expansion. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), America’s secretive spy satellite agency, operates a vast constellation of spy satellites in orbit. But these surveillance spacecraft have traditionally only been able to gaze down on a few small areas of the planet at a time, like flashlights probing the dark. And this, only with careful advance planning by human operators on the ground. Now the NRO wants to expand the current flashlight-like satellite deployment to a horizon-spanning, overhead spotlight that can illuminate vast swaths of the planet all at once. The agency also wants new spacecraft that can crunch the resulting data using sophisticated computer algorithms, freeing the satellites somewhat from their current reliance on human analysts.
►►GCHQ warns of ‘unprecedented’ cyberattack threat. The British government’s electronic eavesdropping and security agency, GCHQ, has warned the chief executives of Britain’s biggest companies about an allegedly “unprecedented threat” from cyber-attacks. “GCHQ now sees real and credible threats to cybersecurity of an unprecedented scale, diversity, and complexity”, said Ian Lobban, the agency’s director. The magnitude and tempo of the attacks pose a real threat to Britain’s economic security’, Lobban adds, but notes that about 80% of known attacks would be defeated by embedding basic information security practices.

Situation Report: Is DARPA’s Phoenix Program Intelligence-Related?

DARPA's Phoenix ProgramBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN| intelNews.org |
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the out-there research arm of the United States Department of Defense, is well known for it’s futuristic and bleeding-edge technology research projects. Often times, the Agency’s highflying efforts seem to protrude a motto of “failure is an option”. In fact, a 2003 article in The Los Angeles Times states that DARPA’s failure rates are between 85 and 90 percent. But this has not prevented the Agency from trying out new things, which sometimes help shape the future. It’s predecessor, Advanced Research Projects Agency, renamed DARPA in 1972, helped create what is today the Internet. Multiplexed Information and Computing Service (aka UNIX), Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface (Siri, that female voice on your iPhone —yup, she’s a spinout from a DARPA Artificial Intelligence project called CALO), and Onion Routing (core technique for anonymous communications over computer networks, i.e. the base technology underlying Tor), were all funded, in part, by DARPA. Unsurprisingly, DARPA is at it again. The question remains, though, can the hype become a reality or will the new effort find a home in the vast majority of DARPAs forward-looking failed adventures? Read more of this post

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