South Korea to buy from France, after US delays sale of spy planes

The United States has unexpectedly delayed a previously agreed sale of spy drones to South Korea, prompting the Asian country to announce it will begin purchasing spy planes from France. The South Korean military has been under increasing pressure to improve its intelligence reconnaissance capabilities since last year, when North Korean forces opened fire at South Korea’s Big Yeonpyeong island, killing four and injuring over a dozen people. But an earlier agreement with Washington to supply Seoul with RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude surveillance spy planes, appears to have been derailed, after the Pentagon failed to approve the sale. South Korea’s state-run Yonhap news agency quoted an anonymous “government source” who said that Seoul had expected to receive the unmanned drones, built by US defense contractor Northrop Grumman, by 2015. But the sale cannot be completed without official approval by the US Department of Defense, which “has yet to send a letter of agreement” for the planned transaction. The South Korean government source did not explain why the US government appears to be backing out of the deal. But US sources tell intelNews that Washington’s move may be “of a punitive nature”, intended to penalize South Korea for challenging Northrop Grumman’s actions in the Korean Peninsula. IntelNews readers may remember a little-reported incident in November of 2009, when the government in Seoul ordered the arrest of two former South Korean army colonels, identified only as “Hwang” and “Ryu”, for allegedly leaking South Korean defense secrets to Northrop Grumman. The two worked for the Security Management Institute, a Seoul-based intelligence think-tank with strong connections to South Korea’s armed forces. According to the indictment by the prosecutor, Hwang and Ryu gave Northrop Grumman classified information on hardware purchase plans and operations of South Korea’s navy and coast guard. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #429 (CIA edition)

News you may have missed #0033

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Obama administration approves new spy satellite program

Very few media outlets picked up last week news of an oral approval by Obama administration officials of a new spy satellite program that will further blur the line between private and US Pentagon satellite imagery provision. The new plan, provisionally called “2-plus-2”, is said to replace the fiasco of Boeing Corporation’s delayed and hugely over-budget Future Imagery Architecture reconnaissance project, which the DoD terminated in 2005. The DoD now appears poised to punish Boeing by awarding 2-plus-2 “to Lockheed without a competitive bidding process”, later this year. Under the new plan, whose initial budget Pentagon officials have refused to reveal, includes building from scratch two state-of-the-art satellites for Pentagon use. It also stipulates increased collaboration between the Pentagon and private satellite imagery providers, such as DigitalGlobe and GeoEye, who currently pocket approximately $25 million a month from the Pentagon. Notably, the new contract has a “guaranteed access” stipulation, which gives the Pentagon “top priority and the ability to direct the satellites if there is a war or another emergency”. The contract is subject to Congressional approval, but intelligence officials have said they are “confident it will pass”.

Obama officials toe Bush Administration secrecy line in rendition lawsuit

Eric Holder

Eric Holder

Last Monday it emerged that the new US Attorney General, Eric H. Holder, ordered “a review of all claims of state secrets used to block lawsuits into warrantless spying on Americans and the treatment of foreign terrorism suspects”. US Justice Department spokesperson, Matt Miller, said the directive “will ensure the [state secrets] privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know”. Despite Mr. Holder’s review order, however, the Obama Administration has chosen to retain the previous government’s “state secrets” clause to block a lawsuit filed by victims of CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The case is Binyam Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, a Colorado-based Boeing Corporation subcontractor that provided logistical support to the CIA’s prisoner transfer scheme. Read more of this post

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