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

News you may have missed #777

KH-9 HexagonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egypt sacks spy chief after border attacks.  Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi sacked the Director of the General Intelligence Directorate, Murad Muwafi, two generals and the governor of north Sinai region on Wednesday, after gunmen killed 16 border guards there on Sunday before last. Mowafi was the most high-profile official who lost his job, forced into early retirement as Egypt’s intelligence agencies were criticized for missing or ignoring warnings about the attack.
►►Photos reveal CIA deep-sea rescue of a spy satellite. On July 10, 1971, America’s newest photo reconnaissance satellite, the KH-9 Hexagon, dropped a capsule loaded with film toward the Earth. Due to a technical error, the capsule sunk in the Pacific Ocean. Last week, the CIA declassified documents and photographs showing how it went 16,000 feet into the sea to recover the Hexagon capsule.
►►Pre-inquest review into death of ex-KGB officer Litvinenko. A British High Court judge will soon hold a pre-inquest review into the death of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, officials have said. Litvinenko, who was working for MI6 following his defection from Russia, is believed to have been poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London, in November 2006. British prosecutors accuse former KGB operatives Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun for the murder. However, earlier this year Lugovoy reportedly passed a lie detector test on the subject of Litvinenko’s death, which was administered in Moscow by the British Polygraph Association.

News you may have missed #758

Heinz FrommBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►NSA head claims Americans’ emails ‘won’t be read’. The House of Representatives in April approved a bill that would allow the government and companies to share information about hacking. Critics have raised privacy concerns about the sharing of such information, fearing it would allow the National Security Agency, which also protects government computer networks, to collect data on American communications, which is generally prohibited by law. But in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, NSA Director Keith Alexander said that the new law would not mean that the NSA would read their personal email.
►►German spy chief quits in neo-Nazi files scandal. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, Heinz Fromm, resigned last week, after admitting that his agency had shredded files on a neo-Nazi cell whose killing spree targeting immigrants rocked the country late last year. The “National Socialist Underground” (NSU), which went undetected for more than a decade despite its murder of 10 people, mostly ethnic Turkish immigrants. German media have said an official working in the intelligence agency is suspected of having destroyed files on an operation to recruit far-right informants just one day after the involvement of the NSU in the murders became public. Fromm had led the Verfassungsschutz since 2000.
►►US spy agency accused of illegally collecting data. The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is pressuring its polygraphers to obtain intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees, pushing the ethical and legal boundaries of a program that is designed to catch spies and terrorists, an investigation has found. The NRO appears so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior of its employees, that its officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with cash bonuses. And in other cases, when it seems the NRO should notify law enforcement agencies of its candidates’ or employees’ past criminal behavior, it has failed to do so.

News you may have missed #750 (US edition)

NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraftBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►US spy agency launches new satellite. The US National Reconnaissance Office, the agency tasked with overseeing America’s intelligence satellites, successfully placed a new spy satellite into orbit. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite launch, sitting atop an Atlas 5 rocket, was streamed live via Webcast for several minutes before being terminated due to national security restrictions and the classified nature of the mission. Particulars regarding the capabilities or specific purpose of the spy satellite were not provided. However, just a few days before, the US Air Force’s highly classified space plane known as the  AX-37B returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
►►FBI takes on larger domestic intelligence role. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, under a newly devised action plan, will be afforded a greater role in domestic intelligence efforts in the US, according to a recent Washington Post article.  Senior level field agents at the bureau are expected to serve as representatives for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the agency created after 9/11 to oversee activities of all US intelligence efforts. The Post quotes CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood, who —remarkably, considering CIA/ODNI relations in recent years— said that the agency has not opposed the ODNI’s move to elevate FBI agents in the US, and that “the program is working well”.
►►CIA declassifies 9/11 documents. The CIA released this past week hundreds of pages of declassified documents related to the September 11, 2001, attacks, which detail the agency’s budgetary woes leading up to the deadly strikes and its attempts to track al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The National Security Archive at George Washington University says it obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents are heavily redacted and offer little new information about what the US knew about the al-Qaeda plot before 2001.

Western spy agencies ‘sharing intelligence’ with Syrian rebels

Robert MoodBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A British newspaper has cited defense sources claiming that British and American intelligence agencies are passing vital information to Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the country’s government. British tabloid The Daily Star quoted “a British defense source” who said that most of the raw intelligence on Syria is picked up by sophisticated British and American satellites monitoring Syrian communications. Once gathered and assessed by intelligence analysts in Washington and London, the information is passed on to operatives of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6, who are allegedly operating on the ground in Syria. They in turn communicate actionable intelligence to rebel leaders in Syria, who are fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the British tabloid, information passed on to rebel leaders includes detailed satellite imagery of Syrian pro-government troop movements around the country, as well as the contents of intercepted communications between senior Syrian military commanders and their subordinates in the field. The Star quotes one unnamed British government source who claims that the satellites are so sophisticated that they allow British and American eavesdroppers to identify the individuals whose voices are heard in the intercepted communications, with the aid of advanced voice recognition systems. The intelligence has reportedly enabled rebel commanders to evacuate locations targeted by government forces, and may also have allowed the rebels to organize successful counterstrikes in response to offensives conducted by troops loyal to Damascus. Washington-based publication The Hill contacted the CIA and the White House but their spokespersons refused to comment on what they called “an ongoing intelligence operation” in Syria. A spokesman from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office would only tell The Star that “all actions remain on the table”.   Read more of this post

News you may have missed #721

Yuval DiskinBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US spies clash with military over outsourcing spy satellites. Members of the US intelligence community and the military are finding themselves on opposite sides regarding the future of American spy satellites. Since the US first began using satellites to collect intelligence data, the government largely relied on its own technology. But in recent years, as private companies have developed sophisticated satellites of their own, Washington has been increasingly relying on commercial sources for spy missions. Now senior intelligence officials have urged the Obama administration to move away from relying on commercial satellite imagery.
►►Israeli ex-spy criticizes plans for war with Iran. Many Israeli retired officials have criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, but the censure from Yuval Diskin, who stepped down as head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service last year, was especially harsh. “I have no faith in the prime minister, nor in the defense minister”, Diskin said in the remarks broadcast by Israeli media on Saturday. “I really don’t have faith in a leadership that makes decisions out of messianic feelings”. Speaking in New York, former Mossad Director Meir Dagan said simply that Diskin “spoke his own truth”.
►►Litvinenko’s widow still waiting for answers. In 2000, after Vladimir Putin became President of the Russian Federation, KGB/FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko fled with his family to the UK, where they claimed political asylum and, later, British citizenship. During his time in London, Litvinenko consulted for MI5 and MI6, worked at a corporate security agency, and wrote two books, including Blowing Up Russia, which alleged that the Russian apartment bombings of 1999 were organized by the FSB, to justify war with Chechnya and sweep Putin into power. He died in 2006 of radioactive poisoning. Six years on, Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, says she is still waiting for answers.

News you may have missed #720

Betty SappBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Lebanese national wanted for spying for Israel. A Lebanese military court has issued an arrest warrant for a Lebanese national suspected of spying for Israel. The judge in the case accused the suspect, whose name is yet to be released, of being in touch with Israel and passing on information about Ron Arad, an Israeli Air Force weapon systems officer who went missing in 1986.
►►Article sheds light on UK Home Office’s ex-spy official. An article in The Sunday London Times examines the role of Charles Farr, a former MI6 officer, who is considered as “the heart” of the British Home Office’s security policy. Farr, who joined MI6 some time in the 1980s, and served in South Africa and Jordan among other places, directs the Office’s Security and Counter-Terrorism unit. He is now in charge of the Home Office’s Communications Capabilities Development Programme, an attempt to augment online government surveillance. One former official, who had a showdown with Farr over policy, tells The Times: “He’s almost messianic. He’s like he’s on a mission to protect the nation. When you disagree with him he gets very emotional. He’s one of these guys who goes white and shakes when he loses his temper”.
►►First woman tapped to lead US spy satellite agency. For the first time in its storied history, the secretive builder and operator of America’s spy satellites, the National Reconnaissance Office, will be run by a woman. Betty Sapp, currently principal deputy director at the spysat agency, will move up one slot and replace NRO Director Bruce Carlson, who many credit with turning around the agency’s problem-plagued acquisition system. While Sapp is the first woman to lead the NRO, she is the second woman to lead one of the major intelligence agencies. Letitia “Tish” Long, director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, gets to claim the honor of first woman to break that glass ceiling.

News you may have missed #712

Abdel Hakim BelhajBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New US spy satellite could include ‘domestic surveillance. Last week, a new US spy satellite was launched into orbit as part of a secretive military program enabling the surveillance of Earth from space. An official at the Vandenberg base told The Los Angeles Times that the NROL-25 was part of a “national security payload”, which could mean it is to be used for any number of purposes, possibly including domestic surveillance.
►►US steps up intelligence and sabotage missions in Iran. American intelligence agencies are ramping up intelligence and sabotage missions focused on Iran’s nuclear program, according to The Washington Post. Officials from the National Security Agency have increased efforts to intercept email and electronic communications coming from Tehran, according to reports in The Post‘s Sunday edition. The CIA and other agencies have also ramped up sabotage missions in the country, geared toward disrupting Iran’s ongoing nuclear work, the paper reports.
►►MI6 ‘considers paying off’ Libyan official. Britain’s MI6 chiefs allegedly plan to offer more than £1 million ($1.6 million) hush money to a Libyan who claims British spies sent him to be tortured by the Gaddafi regime. The Secret Intelligence Service is scrambling to prevent Abdel Hakim Belhaj releasing details of his case following the revelation that a Labour Party minister sanctioned his extraordinary rendition —contravening UK policy on torture.

News you may have missed #700: analysis edition

Tal DekelBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Egypt struggles to advance spy satellite program. Since Egyptian technicians lost touch two years ago with an observation satellite they hoped would help carry the country into the “space club”, the country has struggled to make progress in gaining intelligence satellite capabilities, but it remains committed to the program. This is according to Tal Dekel, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security. He said few are aware of the extent of Egypt’s satellite program: “People talk about the Iranians, but no one talks about Egypt’s program, which includes much more than a satellite”.
►►China spying on Taiwan despite thaw. When Taiwanese security personnel detained a suspected spy for China at a top secret military base last month, they may have had a sense of déjà vu. Four suspected spies have been detained in Taiwan during the last fourteen months. The cases show that China is seeking information about systems that are integral to Taiwan’s defenses and built with sensitive US technology. A major breach could make Taiwan more vulnerable to Chinese attack.
►►US intel says water shortages threaten stability. Competition for increasingly scarce water in the next decade will fuel instability in regions such as South Asia and the Middle East that are important to US national security, according to an intelligence report from the US Director of National Intelligence. The report, drafted principally by the Defense Intelligence Agency, reflects a growing emphasis in the US intelligence community on how environmental issues such as water shortages, natural disasters and climate change may affect US security interests.

News you may have missed #694

Hakan FidanBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►India’s spy satellite to be launched in April. The Radar Imaging Satellite, or RISAT-1, is a wholly Indian-built spy-surveillance satellite that can see through clouds and fog and has very high-resolution imaging. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has said that RISAT-1 is slated for launch in April. The satellite would be used for disaster prediction and agriculture forestry, and the high-resolution pictures and microwave imaging “could also be used for defense purposes”.
►►GCHQ staff could risk prosecution for war crimes. British law firm Leigh Day & Co. and the legal action charity Reprieve are launching the action against Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague, accusing him of passing on intelligence to assist US covert drone attacks in Pakistan. Human rights lawyers have said that civilian staff at GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, could also be at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes.
►►Turf war between Turkey’s top spy and police commander? A news report appeared yesterday, which claimed that there was a rift between Turkish intelligence agency MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and National Police Chief Mehmet Kılıçlar, over intelligence sharing in the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But the two agencies issued a rare joint statement calling media reports “unsubstantiated”.

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