Accused Chinese nuclear spy ‘to plead guilty’ in US court this week

China General Nuclear PowerA man at the center of the first case of Chinese nuclear espionage in United States history will be pleading guilty on Friday, according to court documents. This could mean that the alleged spy has decided to give the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) details of Chinese nuclear espionage in the US. The accused man is Szuhsiung ‘Allen’ Ho, a Taiwanese-born engineer and naturalized American citizen. Ho was arrested by the FBI in April on charges of sharing American nuclear secrets with the government of China.

The investigation began when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) contacted the FBI with concerns about Ching Huey, a TVA senior manager. When the FBI questioned the TVA executive, he admitted that Allen Ho had paid him in exchange for information about nuclear power production. He also said that he had traveled to China for that purpose, and that the Chinese government had covered his travel expenses. A few months later, the FBI arrested Ho in Atlanta, Georgia, and charged him with espionage. The FBI also claims that Ho’s US business firm, Energy Technology International, gave secrets to China General Nuclear Power, a Chinese company that supplies nuclear energy technology to the Chinese government. According to Ho’s indictment, he used his technical expertise and business acumen to give Beijing US government information that could help China’s civilian and military nuclear program.

Government prosecutors argued successfully that Ho, who has close family in China, including a son from a former marriage, could flee there if freed. Prosecutors also claim that Ho has access to several million US dollars abroad. For the past months, Ho’s defense denied the espionage accusations against him. But on Tuesday, a newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Ho has been charged, said that the jailed engineer is preparing to plead guilty in court on Friday. Observers believe that this move by Ho’s legal team means that he has decided to cooperate with the FBI. He could therefore provide US authorities with information about Chinese nuclear espionage in the US, and secrets on “the inner workings of China’s nuclear program”, said the newspaper.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 4 January 2017 | Permalink

Russia charges engineer with spying for foreign agency

Russian authorities have charged an engineer working at a top-secret military facility in the Urals with espionage, accusing him of passing classified information about Russian ballistic missiles to agents of a foreign government. According to the InterFax news agency, which has strong links with the Russian government, the engineer had disclosed “secret data [and] state secrets concerning the area of strategic defense systems “. The Moscow-based news agency quoted an unnamed “Russian law enforcement official” who said that the accused spy worked at a critical research and development position inside a “restricted government facility that develops missile technology”. The source told InterFax that the alleged spy was working on the Russian R-30 Bulava ballistic missile, which is said to be in its final development stage. The R-30 Bulava (the Russian word for “mace”) is the name for Moscow’s latest-generation submarine-based ballistic missile technology. It is widely considered to be one of the future cornerstones of Russia’s nuclear weapons capability, and is thought to be the most expensive weapons project currently being developed in the country. The missile was approved for production last year, and is expected to come to service this coming October, when it will begin to replace Russia’s Soviet-era stock of submarine-launched nuclear missiles. The program is strongly linked to the country’s Borei-class ballistic-missile-capable nuclear submarines, which are expected to be able to launch the R-30 Bulava while underwater and in motion. Read more of this post

Israel ‘conducts espionage incursions into Iran from Kurdish Iraq’

Kurds in the Iran-Iraq border regionBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS & IAN ALLEN | |
Israeli intelligence services are routinely using an undisclosed base in Iraqi Kurdistan to launch regular intelligence missions into Iran, according to The Sunday Times. The London-based newspaper cited unnamed “Western intelligence sources” in alleging that Israeli commandos and highly trained special forces members have been conducting cross-border operations from northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan province. But, says the paper, these risky intelligence missions have been intensified to an unprecedented degree in the past few months, as the Israelis are desperately seeking “smoking gun evidence” to convince the United States and the United Nations that Iran is actively constructing a nuclear warhead. The Israelis, according to the Times, deploy twelve-member fully armed teams into Iran on modified Black Hawk helicopters, which are able to fly for approximately 500 miles without needing to refuel. After landing into Iran, the Israeli commandos, who are usually in Iranian military uniforms, are transported to target locations in vehicles made to look like those used by the Iranian military. Their target destinations include Iranian military complexes such as that in Parchin, located 19 miles southeast of Tehran. The Times claims that the Israeli commando teams have also been to Fordow, near Qum, a heavily guarded former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base that houses an underground uranium enrichment facility. The article claims that, once they reach their destination, the Israeli commando teams use “sensitive equipment” to monitor levels of radioactivity and record the magnitude of any explosives tests that might be carried out at those locations. IntelNews has paid particular attention over the years to reports of alleged cooperation between Israeli intelligence agencies and Kurdish groups in Iraq and elsewhere. Read more of this post

CIA installed nuclear surveillance device atop Himalayas mountains

The United States Central Intelligence Agency tried at least twice to install a nuclear-powered surveillance device atop the Indian Himalayas, in an effort to spy on China. The decision to plant the device was taken in 1964, soon after communist China detonated its first nuclear bomb. In 1965, a team of CIA operatives attempted to climb Nanda Devi in the Garhwal Himalayas, which, at 25,645 feet (7,816 meters), is the highest mountain peak located entirely within Indian territory. But the top-secret mission failed miserably after adverse weather forced the CIA team to give up its effort approximately 2,000 feet below the summit. Battling against a heavy snowstorm, the CIA officers abandoned the 125-pound device, which was eventually swept away (.pdf document) by an avalanche. Incredibly, the team members deserted the surveillance device even though they knew it contained plutonium 238, which can emit radioactivity for over 500 years. In 1966, the same CIA team returned to Nanda Devi, in an effort to recover the complex surveillance instrument, but failed to locate it. In response to the second failed mission, the Agency decided to close the book on Nanda Devi, and instead constructed an identical surveillance device, which was transported and installed on Nanda Kot, a mountain peak located about nine miles (15 km) southeast of Nanda Devi. At 6,861 meters, Nanda Kot is about 3,000 feet shorter and far less steep than Nanda Devi. In 1967, a successful CIA attempt was made to reach the peak of Nakda Kot, where the radioactive surveillance device was installed. It is believed that it served its purpose before being abandoned there in 1968. Ten years later, in 1978, both operations were revealed in an article published in US-based Outside magazine. The revelation caused a major political uproar in India, as many Indians consider the Himalayas ‘sacred’ ground. Now the National Archives of India has released a batch of previously classified internal documents from India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Read more of this post

US government wants to use secret witnesses in CIA leak trial

James Risen

James Risen

Prosecutors in the case of an ex-CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information to a journalist have asked the court for permission to introduce evidence in secret and to use privacy screens to shield the identities of witnesses. Jeffrey Sterling, who worked for the CIA’s Iran Task Force,  faces 10 felony counts and up to 120 years in prison for sharing information about the CIA’s operations in Iran. Court documents do not name the recipient of Sterling’s information, but it is common knowledge that Sterling spoke to James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times. In chapter 9 of his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Risen details a botched operation by the Iran Task Force, which tried to pass to the Iranians a series of faulty nuclear bomb design documents. To do this, the CIA apparently recruited a Russian former nuclear scientist, who had defected to the United States. The unnamed scientist was told to travel to Vienna, Austria, in early 2000, and offer to sell the documents to the Iranians. But the documents contained a deliberate technical flaw, which, Risen alleges, the Russian CIA operative thought was so obvious that it could make him look untrustworthy in the eyes of the Iranians, thus endangering the entire mission. The Russian scientist ended up letting the Iranians know about the flaw, reveals Risen. He further alleges that the CIA operation may have actually helped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, as Iranian scientists would have been able to “extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #519

  • Australian ex-spy wins right to compensation. The former spy, known only as FXWZ, worked for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation for almost 15 years before leaving it in 1979. Now at 67, he has won the right to compensation claiming that his work for ASIO induced a mental disorder.
  • Eritrea releases UK citizens detained for espionage. The four British men, two of whom are former Royal Marines, were arrested in Eritrea last December on suspicion of espionage, after they were caught in possession of arms including 18 different types of snipers, ammunition and night vision equipment. They have been released after a months-long diplomatic row between Eritrea and Britain.
  • Pakistan to deport US national suspected of spying. Twenty-seven year-old Matthew Craig Barrett has been arrested for allegedly scouting nuclear facilities near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and is expected to be deported soon.

Russia may swap convicted spy for ‘merchant of death’ held in US

Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout

Moscow and Washington may swap a Russian former defense official, convicted for spying for the United States, with notorious Russian weapons dealer Viktor Bout, who is being held in a US prison. Andrei Klychev, 49, who worked at Rosatom Russia’s Nuclear Energy State Corporation, was arrested last year on espionage charges. Last week, he was given an 18-year sentence in a closed-door trial, for spying on behalf of the United States. But Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday that Russia is actively considering swapping Klychev with Viktor Bout, history’s most notorious weapons smuggler, whose shady activities inspired the 2005 motion picture Lord of War. Bout, who was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, Soviet Tajikistan, served in the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) until the dissolution of the USSR, at which point he began supplying weapons to groups ranging from Congolese rebels and Angolan paramilitaries to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In March of 2008, Bout was arrested by the Royal Thai Police, after a tip by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers. The latter had managed to lure Bout to Thailand by pretending to be Colombian FARC arms procurers. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #462

  • CIA secrets could surface in Swiss nuclear case. A seven-year effort by the CIA to hide its relationship with the Tinners, a Swiss family who once acted as moles inside the world’s most successful atomic black market, hit a turning point on Thursday when a Swiss magistrate recommended charging the men with trafficking in technology and information for making nuclear arms.
  • Pakistan spy chief to ignore US summons. The Pakistani government has announced that hat there is “no possibility” that Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, would obey a summons requesting his appearance before a court in the United States relating to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
  • Australia told to prioritize spy recruitment. Carl Ungerer, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has advised the Australian intelligence agencies to “look at ways to improve information gathering from human sources”, as they undergo a period of reform.

Documents detail history of previously unknown US spy agency

John V. Grombach

J.V. Grombach

A collection of tens of thousands of documents discovered in a barn in a small Virginia town, have brought to light the history and operations of a previously unknown US spy agency that competed for prominence with the CIA during the early stages of the Cold War. The secrecy-obsessed agency was known at various times as the Secret Intelligence Branch, the Special Service Branch, the Special Service Section, or the Coverage and Indoctrination Branch; but insiders referred to it simply as “the Lake” or “the Pond”. It was created in late 1942 by the then newly established US Department of Defense, whose officials did not approve of the civilian character of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. In its 13-year existence, the Pond operated on a semi-autonomous base under the Departments of Defense and State, but maintained a poor relationship with the CIA, which it considered too “integrated with British and French Intelligence and infiltrated by Communists and Russians”. This information is contained in the files, which were stored in several safes and filing cabinets by the organization’s secretive leader, US Army Colonel John V. Grombach, who died in 1982. Read more of this post

US asked for Egypt’s spy help on Algerian nuclear reactor

Document cover page

Cover page

A US consular document, acquired by a leading Algerian newspaper, reveals that Washington asked Egypt’s help in collecting intelligence on the Algerian nuclear energy program. The document, which dates from May 1991, was drafted by officials in the US embassy in Cairo, Egypt; it is not known how it came to the possession of Algerian daily Ennahar, which published it on Tuesday. It contains a summary of a May 1991 meeting in Cairo between Richard Clarke, who was then the US Department of State’s deputy secretary for political and military affairs, and a senior Egyptian official whose name is in redacted in the document, but appears to have been Amr Moussa, Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs at the time. The document, which is classified ‘top secret’, reports that the US delegation asked the Egyptians to help them gather information on Algeria’s Es Salam nuclear reactor, located in the city of Ain Oussera, in the province of Djelfa, in north-central Algeria. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0273

  • Tinner nuclear spy ring worked for CIA, documents confirm. IntelNews has been reporting for more than a year that Urs Tinner, a Swiss engineer who worked under Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, and was said at the time to be leading “the world’s biggest nuclear smuggling ring”, was in fact a CIA informant. Now documents submitted in a Swiss federal court appear to confirm Tinner’s CIA connection.
  • Son of Georgia’s former president charged with spying for Russia. Some say that Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-communist president, was assassinated in 1993. Now his son, Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, has been formally charged with “collaborating with Russian intelligence services”. The former president’s son’s arrest appears to be the latest episode in an ongoing intelligence war between Russia and Georgia.

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More on Iranian physicist’s assassination

Blast site

Blast site

American intelligence and State Department officials, some anonymous, have denied any connection with the assassination yesterday of Iranian physicist Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, in Tehran. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that Ali-Mohammadi was among several Iranian researchers who had regular contacts with Israeli and Arab physicists, through a United Nations-sponsored scientific collaboration project based in Amman, Jordan. The program, known as Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME), was focused on non-nuclear physics applications in the medical industry and nanotechnology. To further complicate the issue, the Iranian opposition issued a report late last night saying that photographs taken at the scene of the bombing shortly after the blast, reveal the presence at the site of Abu Nasser Hossein, assistant to Manif Ashmar, who is Hezbollah’s public face in Iran. Read more of this post

BREAKING NEWS: Bomb blast kills Iranian physicist

Masoud Ali Mohammadi

Dr. Mohammadi

Iran’s state broadcaster has said a government physicist was “martyred” earlier this morning in a suspicious blast outside his home. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news agency reports that police forces have sealed off the area around the Tehran residence of Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, whom it described as a “dedicated revolutionary professor”. Dr. Ali-Mohammadi was reportedly killed by a remotely controlled explosive device that was planted at the entrance of his residence. Iranian officials hint that the remnants of the device point to the work of “outside intelligence agencies”, and some implicate the Mossad. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0161

  • No new clues in released Cheney FBI interview. Early in October, a US federal judge ordered the FBI to release the transcript of an interview with former US vice-president Dick Cheney, conducted during an investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. There were rumors that the classified transcript pointed to George W. Bush as the source of the incriminating leak. But the released interview transcript contains nothing of the kind.
  • Sir Hollis not a Soviet agent, says MI5 historian. “Sir Roger Hollis was not merely not a Soviet agent, he was one of the people who would least likely to have been a Soviet agent in the whole of MI5″, according to Professor Christopher Andrew, author of the recently published In Defense of the Realm. Dr. Andrew’s comments were in response to the book Spycatcher, by former MI5 officer Peter Wright, which alleges that Sir Hollis, former head of MI5, had been a KGB agent.
  • New report says nuclear expert’s death was not suicide. A new autopsy into the death of British nuclear scientist Timothy Hampton has concluded that “he did not die by his own hands”, as previously suggested. The post-mortem examiner said Hampton “was carried to the 17th floor from his workplace on the sixth floor” of a United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, “and thrown to his death”.

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News you may have missed #0158

  • Former Los Alamos scientist is no spy, say physicists. US scientists familiar with the work of P. Leonardo Mascheroni, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear physicist whose house was recently searched by the FBI, insist he is not a spy. Mascheroni says he was told by the FBI that he is suspected of possible involvement in “nuclear espionage”.
  • Analysis: The West’s intelligence deficit on Iran. The fact is that neither a single intelligence agency nor the collective wisdom of the Brits, Israelis, French and Americans, has given Western countries a full picture of what is going on either in Iran’s nuclear program or in the minds of the leadership in Tehran.
  • Australia hires more spies. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) has said in its annual security review that “hostile intelligence agencies” are increasingly using the Internet to gather intelligence from Australian government computer networks. Interestingly, ASIO also noted that the number of its staff members increased from 1492 in 2008 to 1690 today.

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