North Korea used Berlin embassy to acquire nuclear tech, says German spy chief

North Korean embassy in BerlinNorth Korea used its embassy in Berlin to acquire technologies that were almost certainly used to advance its missile and nuclear weapons programs, according to the head of Germany’s counterintelligence agency. For many decades, Pyongyang has used a sophisticated international system of procurement to acquire technologies and material for its conventional and nuclear weapons programs. These secret methods have enabled the country to evade sanctions placed on it by the international community, which wants to foil North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.

But according to Hans-Georg Maassen, director of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), at least some of the technologies used by North Korea to advance its nuclear program were acquired through its embassy in Berlin. Maassen admitted this during an interview on ARD television, part of Germany’s national broadcasting service. The interview will be aired on Monday evening, but selected excerpts were published on Saturday on the website of NDR, Germany’s national radio broadcaster. Maassen was vague about the nature of the technology that the North Koreans acquired through their embassy in Berlin. But he said that North Korean diplomats and intelligence officers with diplomatic credentials engaged in acquiring so-called “dual use” technologies, which have both civilian and military uses. These, said Maassen, were acquired “with a view to [North Korea’s] missile program and sometimes also for the nuclear program”.

Maassen noted that the BfV had evidence of North Korean diplomats in Berlin attempting to procure dual use technologies as late as 2016 and 2017. “When we notice such actions, we prevent them”, said the BfV director, adding that in 2014 his agency prevented a North Korean diplomat from acquiring equipment that could have been used to develop chemical weapons. However, “we simply cannot guarantee that we are able to detect and block each and every attempt”, said Maassen.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 February 2018 | Permalink

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Nuclear scientist expelled from China kills himself in North Korean prison

Sinuiju North KoreaA North Korean nuclear scientist who defected to China but was involuntarily sent back to North Korea in November reportedly killed himself in his North Korean cell hours before he was due to be interrogated. Information about the scientist’s alleged suicide was issued on Thursday by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a multilingual news service based in Washington, DC, which is funded by the United States government. The service said its reporters spoke to an anonymous source in North Hamgyong province, North Korea’s northernmost region that borders China. The source identified the late scientist as Hyun Cheol Huh, but cautioned that this may not be his real name, because the North Korean security services are known to “use […] fake names when referring to important persons” in their custody.

Hyun was reportedly a senior nuclear researcher at North Korea’s Academy of Sciences in Pyongyang, an institution that plays a crucial role in North Korea’s biological and nuclear weapons programs. According to RFA, Hyun defected while on vacation from his work. He traveled to the Chinese border to visit relatives, but did not file an application for travel documents. These are required for travel within North Korea. He then disappeared. On November 4, China Immigration Inspection officers arrested a large group of undocumented North Korean nationals in the city of Dandong, reportedly after receiving a tip by North Korean intelligence. Among them was Hyun, who was involuntarily sent back to North Korea on November 17 by the Chinese authorities.

As is common practice with captured North Korean defectors, the scientist was placed in solitary confinement in Sinŭiju, a city on the Yalu River right across the Chinese border. But when guards entered Hyun’s cell to take him to his first interrogation, they found him dead. The source told RFA that Hyun “killed himself only a few hours after he was placed in solitary confinement at the State Security Department in Sinuiju city”. Hyun’s death was reportedly caused by poison, which he is believed to have taken with the intent of taking his own life. There was no explanation of where and how Hyun was able to secure the poison. “He must have been searched many times while being taken from China to Sinuiju, so it’s a mystery how he was able to conceal the poison he took”, the source told RFA. The source added that upon his arrest Hyun did not tell Chinese Immigration Inspection officers that he was a nuclear scientist. Doing so would probably have averted his expulsion back to North Korea.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 December 2017 | Permalink

Ukraine releases rare footage showing arrests of North Korean nuclear spies

North Korean SpiesUkrainian authorities have released rare surveillance footage filmed during a sting operation that ended with the capture of three North Korean spies. The North Koreans, two of whom are now serving prison sentences in Ukraine, had traveled there in 2011 believing they would be given missile technology secrets. Last July, North Korea surprised missile technology experts by successfully testing two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Government-controlled media in Pyongyang claimed that North Korean ICBMs were capable of reaching the United States’ mainland.

On August 14, a report by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) suggested that North Korea’s technological leap had been achieved with assistance from abroad. The report claimed that one possible source of North Korea’s technical advancement was the Yuzhnoye Design Office, a corporation that specializes in the design of rockets and satellites. Based in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, Yuzhnoye has its roots in the Soviet space and weapons program of the early 1950s. Following the publication of the IISS report, some experts claimed that North Korean spies may have illicitly purchased or stolen missile designs from Yuzhnoye. Ukrainian authorities strongly denied these allegations, and argued that Russia was a far more likely source of North Korea’s technical knowledge —something that Moscow refutes. In an effort to strengthen their claims, Ukrainian officials were authorized to release details of counterespionage operations against North Korean spies in recent years. They told the US-based news network CNN that several North Korean spies had been caught spying in Ukraine in recent years, and that Ukraine responded in 2016 by barring all North Koreans from entering the country.

The Ukrainians also released to CNN surveillance footage filed during a sting operation in 2011, in which three North Korean diplomats were caught photographing classified documents in Ukraine. The documents, which contained technical blueprints of missiles, were fake, and the operation had been planned by the Ukrainians several years prior. The three North Koreans had traveled to Ukraine from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s embassy in Moscow. One of the men, who had been tasked with transporting stolen hardware missile parts out of Ukraine, was deported following his arrest. His two accomplices are currently serving eight-year prison sentences in a Ukrainian prison located nearly 90 miles west of Kiev. Reporters from CNN were also granted access to the two North Korean prisoners, known only as “X5” and “X32”. The younger prisoner, who goes by X32, declined to be interviewed. But X5, who is in his mid-50s, told CNN that he was born in Pyongyang and that at the time of his arrest he was serving as a trade representative in the DPRK’s embassy in Belarus.

Ukrainian officials told CNN that the two men were visited in jail once by officials in the DPRK’s embassy in Moscow, but that was their only contact —face-to-face or otherwise— with North Korean citizens since their arrest. The officials argued that this information about Ukraine’s counterespionage operations against North Korean spies should help dispel all allegations that Pyongyang may have acquired its missile knowhow from Ukrainian sources.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 August 2017 | Permalink

North Koreans are studying nuclear physics in Japan, say human rights activists

ChongryonStudents who have pledged allegiance to North Korea are being taught advanced courses in nuclear physics and control engineering in Japan, which violates United Nations sanctions, according to human rights campaigners. The students take classes at Korea University, a higher-education institution located in in Kodaira, a western suburb of the Japanese capital Tokyo. The University is funded directly by the government of North Korea through Chongryon, a pro-Pyongyang organization otherwise known as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The group represents tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are ideologically affiliated with Pyongyang.

But an organization called Human Rights in Asia has accused the Korea University of offering advanced technical courses on subjects related to nuclear engineering. According to the organization, the courses directly violate UN sanctions aimed at preventing North Korea from further-developing its nuclear weapons program. Human Rights in Asia is a partner with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House, and others, in a worldwide campaign calling itself the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea. The Japanese director of Human Rights in Asia, Ken Kato, claims that the Korea University curriculum directly violates the UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang. His organization recently submitted a petition about the topic to the UN Security Council Committee pursuant to resolution 1718. The Committee was set up in 2006 to monitor sanctions placed on North Korea, after the country announced that it possessed nuclear weapons. The petition claims that the Korea University’s curriculum violates several paragraphs of the UN sanctions resolution, which forbid the provision of specialized teaching and training on subjects relating to nuclear science. The petition also accuses the Korea University of operating as “a center for North Korea’s espionage activities in Japan”.

In February of this year, authorities in South Korea arrested an associate professor of Korea University in Japan on espionage charges. Pak Chae Hun, 49, a citizen of Japan, allegedly operated as an intelligence handler for North Korean sleeper agents operating in South Korea, Japan and China. South Korean counterintelligence officials said they intercepted encrypted email messages sent to Pak from Japan. The messages allegedly contained instructions from Office 225 of the North Korean Workers’ Party Korea, which is tasked with overseeing the activities of sleeper agents operating in South Korea. Pak is also accused of having provided North Korean agents with telephone devices and ATM cards, which they used to withdraw cash from banks in South Asia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 December 2016 | Permalink

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.

Ukraine jails North Koreans in missile espionage case

One of the two North Koreans being led to courtBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A court in Ukraine has jailed two North Korean citizens on charges of trying to obtain secret technical information about missile engines. A Ukrainian government official said on Monday that the North Koreans had each been sentenced to eight years in prison, and that “they will serve their sentence in Ukraine”. Speaking to Russian-language Ukrainian daily Segodnya, the official said that Ukrainian authorities had expected that Pyongyang would request extradition of its two citizens, but that the North Korean government’s reaction had been “passive”. According to the paper, the two convicted men, who have not been named, were employed by the North Korean trade mission in Belarusian capital Minsk. It was from there that, several months ago, they arrived by train to Kiev, where they tried —unsuccessfully— to recruit a number of locals as informants. One of the latter tipped off Ukrainian authorities, who placed the two North Koreans under surveillance. Eventually, the two suspects were arrested in a rented garage in the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk, while photographing technical documents with a pair of handheld miniature digital cameras. The Segodnya report stated that the documents consisted of doctoral dissertations, marked ‘confidential’, which described highly technical methods of designing effective solid- and liquid-fuel supply systems for missile engines. Some of the documents concerned the technical specifications of computer software to assist in the design of missile fuel supply systems, said the paper. The confidential documents had reportedly been taken from the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, a cornerstone of the Soviet —and now the Ukrainian— space industry, which in the early 1960s developed the R-16 (known in the West as SS-7), the first inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) successfully deployed by the Soviet Union. Read more of this post

Details emerge on Israeli bombing of Syrian nuke reactor

Ibrahim Othman

Ibrahim Othman

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
German newsmagazine Der Spiegel has published a most detailed examination of the background to Operation ORCHARD, the 2007 Israeli air attack on what is thought to have been a Syrian nuclear reactor. The attack was carried out by Israeli fighter jets in the night of September 6, 2007, at Al-Kibar, a site deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert, twenty miles from Deir al-Zour. Neither Syria nor Israel have commented on the attack, which is widely thought to have targeted Syria’s so-called Al-Kibar nuclear reactor. Der Spiegel’s article is based on interviews with nuclear and security experts, as well as “with individuals involved in the operation, [and] have only now agreed to [speak], under conditions of anonymity”, according to the authors. The article claims that the initial tip about Al-Kibar was given to the Israelis in 2004 by the US National Security Agency, which “detected a suspiciously high number of telephone calls between Syria and North Korea”. Read more of this post