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.

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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

World’s most prolific nuclear arms smuggler admits CIA link

Urs Tinner

Urs Tinner

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On October 4, 2003, Italian authorities, acting on a tip by the CIA, inspected a Libya-bound German ship anchored at Taranto, Italy. The ship was found to be carrying several centrifuges for use in Libya’s uranium enrichment program. The discovery led to the uncovering of the role of Dr. Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, in subcontracting his nuclear knowhow to North Korea, Iran and Libya. It also led to the uncovering of Urs Tinner, a Swiss engineer who worked under A.Q. Khan, and was said at the time to be leading “the world’s biggest nuclear smuggling ring”. Tinner was eventually arrested along with his father Friedrich and brother Marco, both members of Tinner’s ring, and extradited to Switzerland. Strangely, however, he was never charged and was in fact released from detention last December, with the blessings of the CIA, who did not wish to see him prosecuted. Now Swiss TV station SF1 has announced the scheduled airing of a documentary, in which the freed Tinner will acknowledge that he tipped the CIA about the German ship in Taranto and A.Q. Khan’s nuclear subcontracting. Read more of this post